Review of Lisa Unger’s ‘The Stranger Inside’
The leaves fall and crunch under boots, and the chill of the wind slices to the core. It’s the perfect time to snuggle up with a blanket, a steaming mug of hot cocoa, and … a thriller? Yes, friends, you read that right. As this cold, dreary winter lingers on, some of you (if you’re anything like me) are looking for the next book to add to your bedside table, and Lisa Unger’s The Stranger Inside is it.
Unger captures your attention on the first page with an unnamed narrator, a stranger lying in wait to make his next sinister move. We see the inner workings of this narrator’s mind, how he notices the minutiae around him: the crispness of autumn, Halloween decorations, the mundanities of a privileged suburban life. And then there is Rain Winter, the protagonist who, as a child, escaped kidnapping and brutal torture. Her two friends were not so lucky. The trauma—and the guilt—stay with her into adulthood, where she recently gave up a flourishing career in crime journalism to care for her baby at home.
Rain is a journalist at heart, though—a believer in truth and justice, no matter the consequences. When a series of seemingly-unconnected homicides is brought to her attention, she can’t help but investigate. And as she grows closer to the answers she so desperately wants to find, she unwittingly grows ever closer to the stranger, too.
As you dive deeper into this portrait of trauma, friendship and unconventional love, you get to know these characters, for better or for worse. This is perhaps what is most impressive about Unger’s writing. Though the story unfolds through two perspectives, she manages to balance both without losing momentum or shirking on character development.
There is another tension in this book, too, and not one you’d expect. Certainly, you encounter the push and pull of a mystery, the who dunnit, if you will. But you also encounter another true-to-life challenge: the artful balance, which can be daunting and feel as if it’s nearly impossible, of being a mother and a career woman. Rain is plagued by a drive to work and a persistent guilt for wanting to when her little girl is at home. This complexity makes Rain all the more compelling. She loves her daughter, she loves her husband and, yet, throughout the book, she makes impulsive, reckless decisions to get to the bottom of the greatest mystery of her life. After all, as Rain reasons, “good girls don’t get answers.”
With finesse, Unger weaves a story of tragedy and redemption, simultaneously holding her characters accountable while offering them salvation. Night after night, it was a challenge for me to put this book down so I could sleep. I wanted to stay up till the wee hours of the morning, eager to know where the next twist would take me.
Will Rain finally find peace from the trauma that’s haunted her for decades? Will she learn who the stranger is, or does he have other plans for her? Find out in The Stranger Inside, out in hardback now.
The Stranger Inside is one of our Fall/Winter 2019-20 Reads. View the entire list here.