A bookstagrammer I follow (Mandy) raved about Those Empty Eyes by Charlie Donlea, saying it broke a meh-ness reading drought for her. I hadn’t seen it on anyone’s Australian listings and she said she’d gotten it from the US publisher so I requested it having read (and enjoyed) Donlea’s other books.
And though I didn’t love it as much as Mandy, it’s another great twisty read. The book opens with the murder of a family; the parents obviously the targets, but their teenage son is in the wrong place at the wrong time. And unfortunately for the killer, another family member escapes. (Though given the killer was using a shotgun, it’s not exactly surprising they were warned!)Those Empty Eyes
by Charlie Donlea
Published by Kensington
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Alex Armstrong has changed everything about herself—her name, her appearance, her backstory. She’s no longer the terrified teenager a rapt audience saw on television, emerging in handcuffs from the quiet suburban home the night her family was massacred.
That girl, Alexandra Quinlan, nicknamed Empty Eyes by the media, was accused of the killings, fought to clear her name, and later took the stand during her highly publicized defamation lawsuit that captured the attention of the nation.
It’s been ten years since, and Alex hasn’t stopped searching for answers about the night her family was killed, even as she continues to hide her real identity from true crime fanatics and grasping reporters still desperate to locate her. As a legal investigator, she works tirelessly to secure justice for others, too. People like Matthew Claymore, who’s under suspicion in the disappearance of his girlfriend, a student journalist named Laura McAllister.
Laura was about to break a major story about rape and cover-ups on her college campus. Alex believes Matthew is innocent, and unearths stunning revelations about the university’s faculty, fraternity members, and powerful parents willing to do anything to protect their children.
Most shocking of all—as Alex digs into Laura’s disappearance, she realizes there are unexpected connections to the murder of her own family. For as different as the crimes may seem, they each hinge on one sinister truth: no one is quite who they seem to be . . .
After the shocking opening sequence – written incidentally from the point of view of the killer – we’re introduced to 18 yr old Alex who survived her family’s slaughter but – because she was found holding the shotgun – originally a suspect in their murder and spent time in juvenile detention. She’s successfully sued law enforcement for her treatment after the murders but struggling to move on. The crime remains unsolved and many still think she was involved.
She’s taken in by the lawyer who represented her in her lawsuit and seemingly has a natural instinct for investigation so changes her name and starts working for him.
I found it a smidge weird that there was no reference to the motive for the murders in the early part of the novel and it’s only when Alex stumbles on some information from her parents’ business that she starts to wonder. Given the profile of the murders I would have expected a little more focus (from true crime buffs as well as the police, Alex and her lawyer) as time passed.
Donlea jumps forward in time a bit here – a few years initially, and then a decade. It probably meant I had more questions than I normally would have – wondering why Alex hadn’t been discovered during that time given her proximity to the one person who would have known her whereabouts (ie. her lawyer). And when she does cross paths with someone from her past, despite some changes, they recognise her quite easily.
And there were a few coincidences here that help Alex make some leaps in deduction and draw links between present cases to her own past.
We do eventually find out ‘why’ her parents were targeted but it almost felt a little unfair as if they were very harshly judged… though perhaps the killer knew they were less concerned about the work they’d become involved in … and we get no insight into them or their lives so I would have like a little more about them perhaps.
There’s also an interesting twist at the end but for me it led to a few more questions.
Those Empty Eyes by Charlie Donlea was published by Kensington Books and is now available.
I received and electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.