A fun and twisting thriller in which no one is who they first appear and everyone has something to hide.
Leah Stevens is in desperate need of a fresh start. Once a star reporter, she’s lost her job at a Boston paper and damaged her professional reputation beyond repair. But salvation arrives when she is unexpectedly reunited with her old roommate, Emmy Grey.
Leah and Emmy relocate to a small town with hopes of starting new chapters. But within a week, a woman who looks just like Leah is left for dead close by and Emmy goes inexplicably missing. As Leah searches for answers in the house they share, she begins to realise how little she knows about Emmy Grey. And when the local police are unable to find any trace of Emmy, they begin to question Leah’s credibility—and her possible role in the crime. Leah knows there’s only one way to clear her name: Find Emmy Grey. But what if Emmy never existed at all?
I’ve been ridonkulously impatient to read more from Megan Miranda after falling in love with her debut thriller, All the Missing Girls, last year. It offered everything I look for in a good suspense story: clever plotting, speedy pacing, well-rounded characters with secrets to keep and an innovative approach (the story is largely narrated in reverse).
The Perfect Stranger delivered more of what I loved in All the Missing Girls. It’s full of suspense, every character has something to hide and the plot is extra twisty. It’s a perfect switch-off-and-relax read.
The covers for Miranda’s novels (which I absolutely LOVE) remind me of the Point Horror novels I binged on as a kid, and Miranda’s narratives provide that same escape and adrenaline rush I used to look for in those stories too. Clever marketing there, Simon & Schuster, very clever.
One of the other things I also love about both Miranda’s thrillers is that her characters (especially her protagonists) aren’t particularly trustworthy. In The Perfect Stranger, Leah moves to a small town in western Pennsylvania after being forced to quit her job at a prestigious Boston paper when she’s accused of fabricating a key source. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that not only has Leah potentially violated one of the golden rules of journalism, but also that a man is dead because of what she wrote. However, Miranda keeps her reader guessing as to whether Leah has, in fact, fabricated the source or is merely protecting her source. Miranda also keeps us guessing as to how much Leah really knows about Emmy—are they co-conspirators in some sinister plot, is Emmy playing Leah, or is Emmy a figment of Leah’s imagination? Because the reader doesn’t know the truth about Leah, it’s tricky to know if she can be trusted. So when she does something a little out there, like sleep with one of the cops investigating Emmy’s disappearance, it’s hard to determine if she genuinely likes him and is making herself incredibly vulnerable or if she’s manipulating him. It makes for deliciously tense reading.
While The Perfect Stranger is firmly on the lighter side—it’s a quick, fun read—it’s also topical and explores relevant ethical questions without becoming overly political and didactic. In particular, it looks at victim blaming. As I discuss above, Miranda keeps her reader guessing about Leah’s role in the unfolding crimes. She’s either being played and in an incredible amount of danger, or else a master manipulator. And the way Miranda crafts this uncertainty demonstrates just how easy it is for facts to become skewed and misinterpreted, and for victims to be recast as villains and vice versa. Miranda also questions: if you know someone is guilty of a serious crime and that they are continuing to commit that crime, but you can’t prove it, how far should you go in order to save potential victims? Also, if a friend or loved one does something terrible, do you stand by them or turn them in?
I found the final chapters of The Perfect Stranger pleasantly surprising—I kept thinking I knew where this story was going, but I was wrong at every turn. And I enjoyed the ending precisely because Miranda delivered me to an unexpected (but satisfying) destination. It’s an ending that ultimately throws it over to the reader to make up their own mind about what kind of person Leah is and avoids offering clear answers to the larger ethical questions raised in the story. It’s the kind of book that would make for great book club discussion, as I reckon a lot of readers would have vastly different opinions about Leah and her actions.
Overall, I found The Perfect Stranger sinister and suspenseful with enough depth beneath the surface to keep things interesting, and it’s confirmed Miranda as one of my auto-buy authors.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of The Perfect Stranger in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up four critical issues and fifteen advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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