Plot/Idea: Narrating from the perspective of the two main characters, Traymore set up the plot in a way that effectively interweaves the present and the past, making the mystery part engaging. However, a few perspectives from the supporting characters influence the naturalness and consistency of the story.
Prose: Traymore's writing is quite neat, with well-detailed descriptions in dialogues, characters' thoughts, and settings, which makes the story vivid and easy to visualize.
Originality: Compared to other mystery/thriller novels, this story is focused on a small setting and incorporates additional elements of building relationships among stepfamily members, which adds a unique touch, though the ending or resolution of the puzzle is similar to that of other thrillers.
Character/Execution: The main characters are well developed, enriching the theme of the story by exploring the doubts that arise among family members. Some of the supporting characters serve as tools the author uses to push the plot forward, lacking logical development and naturalness.
Date Submitted: April 12, 2023
Unsettling Domestic Thriller Stands on the Shoulders of Gillian Flynn.
Building on the success of tense mysteries like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), author Bonnie Traymore has crafted a deliciously unsettling domestic thriller with her new novel The Stepfamily.
Laura’s on the verge of living the life she’s always wanted. At the age of twenty-seven, she put her career plans on hold, married handsome widower Peter Foster, settled down in his Silicon Valley home, and helped raise his two children.
Fast forward over a decade and her life feels like a fairytale. Her career is soaring, she and her husband are empty-nesters and Peter’s company is on the verge of an FDA approval that could make them more money than they’d ever dreamed they would have. When a series of freak accidents turns the fairytale into a nightmare however, it becomes clear that someone is out to get her. Is it someone jealous of her success? Or is it perhaps someone more dangerous and even closer to home?
Laura has never been the type to make enemies, but she senses that her husband Peter is keeping secrets. When she starts digging into the family’s past, she only finds that the rabbit hole goes ever deeper. With the walls closing in, she needs to find out why someone would want to harm her…and what really happened to Peter’s first wife.
My favorite aspect of the novel was the character complexity. “Traymore, most recently the author of Little Loose Ends(2022), provides readers with a sympathetic hero in Laura who tends to bury her feelings,” says Kirkus Reviews. Thanks to the unique narration however, readers are able to circumvent Laura’s facade and experience first-hand her thoughts, feelings and development. I also appreciated how cleverly Traymore kept me guessing by writing characters like Peter in a manner that prevents me from solving them too early, something from which other mysteries often suffer.
The tension between Laura and her husband Peter is brilliantly crafted, and the way their relationship evolves over the course of the book is a masterclass in development. The investigations involving Laura’s car and the attempts on her life are enthralling, and most importantly logical, which helps keep readers immersed in the story and its stakes.
As I mentioned earlier, the narration style itself is also unique. The chapters alternate between Laura’s first-person perspective and the third-person narration of Peter’s point of view. Opposing points of view (hence my mention of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl) definitely increases the suspense and weaves into the story an adversarial quality that kept me on my toes and left me constantly yearning for the perspective to shift again. Through this quality, Traymore expertly handles reveals and twists and presents a well-paced mystery that always stays one step ahead of its readers.
Traymore’s writing style is truly engaging and the plot is well-crafted, serpentine in its twists and turns and tantalizingly unpredictable. Full of well-developed, nuanced characters that defy traditional notions of good and bad, The Stepfamily is the perfect read for those itching for a thriller that immediately grabs hold and doesn’t let go.
A tech-startup VP suspects that someone is trying to kill her in Traymore’s thriller.
Things are looking up for Laura Foster. After seven years of marriage to Peter, who, she’s sure, loves her, and being stepmother to his two children—who, initially, didn’t like her—the 39-year-old has just been given a big career opportunity. She’s the new vice president of monetization at a company about to launch an app aimed at prospective college students. But things start to go downhill rapidly when she discovers brake fluid leaking from her car. Would jealousy drive someone to kill over a promotion? Her fevered imagination goes into overdrive when she suspects that something is bothering Peter. Does it have to do with his job at a biotech company that is anxiously awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a new cancer drug? Is the seeming attempt on Laura’s life conjuring up memories of his late wife, who died in a fatal hiking accident? A friend of hers suggests that something sinister is afoot with Peter. However, when Peter seeks out a private investigator to look into the incident, he denies it. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Peter insists, “but we’re happily married. There’s no story there….” “Okay, then. Nothing in your present,” the PI says. “What about your past?” That’s when things really start to get interesting. Traymore, most recently the author of Little Loose Ends (2022), provides readers a sympathetic hero in Laura, who tends to bury her feelings; with the kids grown and out of the house, she’d dearly love to move from the house that Peter shared with his ex-wife. The chapters alternate between her first-person perspective and third-person narration of Peter’s side of things. Dueling perspectives, à la Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl (2012), might have ratcheted up the suspense a bit more, but that would have required an immediate explanation of an anonymous email sent to Peter: “I know what you did. I won’t tell anyone.” However, Traymore deftly handles revelations and twists throughout.
A deliberately paced mystery that always stays one step ahead of its readers