After the phenomenal success of his New York Times bestseller, The Silent Girls (reviewed here at PopMythology), Eric Rickstad is back in force with his latest, Lie in Wait. Right out of the gate, Rickstad establishes himself as a trendsetter in the mystery/horror genre by breaking apart the established norms. The common format has traditionally been to create a compelling crime investigator or team and build a series of stories around this character or team. Examples hearken back to the classics of Sherlock/Watson or Hercule Poirot leading up to the more modern Kay Scarpetta or Temperance Brennan.
Rickstad has eschewed this long-standing tradition, at least for The Silent Girls and Lie in Wait. The main detectives are different, and what is held constant for the “sequel” is the setting of Canaan, Vermont. And what a fantastic setting for mystery/horror it is. All of Rickstad’s skillfully crafted eerie descriptions and details that raised the hair on the backs of your arms in The Silent Girls are once again present. These descriptions elevate the rural setting to the status of a main character in its own right. The season too is no mild, bucolic New England summer or the brilliant radiance of the fall, but that insidious, soul-squeezing time when the last dead leaf falls and winter creeps in inexorably.
The crime is the murder of a babysitter; a young, bright teenager killed by a single blow to the head. The investigators are the state detective, Richard North, an austere taciturn man and Sonja Test (who played a supporting role in Silent Girls) from the local police. Test is not officially assigned to the case, but is driven to help from a combination of deep compassion and devotion to her civic responsibilities. The backdrop is a rural Vermont town being torn apart by violent activism both supporting and opposing gay marriage. This timely controversy adds a sense of modernity to the story that enhances its reality.
What ensues is a highly-captivating tale full of intriguing and thought-provoking twists and unforeseen complexities. Nothing is simply what it seems to be on the surface and, as Robert Penn Warren has said, “There is always something.”
Rickstad is clearly on his way to becoming a classic, master storyteller. But where he really stands out is with his character drawing skills. There are none of the standard, clichéd, purely evil psychopathic villians. What we are given instead are realistic portraits of people that commit criminal acts spawning for reasons varying from past victimization to present bigotries and hatreds. Altering the main characters of the investigators from book to book is a stroke of writing ingenuity that keeps the concept fresh and sets Lie in Wait’s story apart and distinct from Rickstad’s previous The Silent Girls.
In short, Lie in Wait is a perfect mystery companion for the lengthening autumn nights and is almost certain to become another notch in Eric Rickstad’s bestseller belt.