SCARED TO DEATH by Wendy Corsi Staub is the eagerly-awaited follow-up to LIVE TO TELL. The thread that ties the two books together is the evil of Garvin Quinn, an overly ambitious politician whose actions in his quest to quench his lust for power continue to adversely affect people in unexpected and devastating ways.
The sequel opens with Brett and Elsa Cavalon on pins and needles as they begin the final phase of adopting Renny, a beautiful seven-year-old girl. The couple is worried that history will repeat itself; 15 years previously, they had adopted a boy named Jeremy, only to lose him when he was suddenly and inexplicably abducted. Renny’s nightmares concerning a monster in her room do little to assuage their fears.
What they don’t know, however, is that Jeremy, believed to be dead, has survived years of horrific abuse and injury. Against all odds, he is making his way back to the only place he has ever known love…and betrayal. Unbeknownst to them, the Cavalons are the targets of an elaborate and diabolical plan for revenge. Meanwhile, Garvin Quinn’s wife, Marin, and two daughters are preparing to make the changes occasioned by Quinn’s fall from grace. Their connection to Jeremy and thus to the Cavalons put them in danger as well.
The plot accordingly proceeds along twin tracks, with extraordinary circumstances propelled by everyday events. It is with regard to the latter that the author truly shines. Staub can wring more terror out of a walk down the hallway of a New York townhouse than many writers can conjure out of an entire city. She is also a master of the “for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” school of plotting. In the world of SCARED TO DEATH, the failure to charge a cell phone or inventory a child’s toy bag can be an event that leads to a frantic and deadly turn of events. Staub did this to wonderful effect in LIVE TO TELL with a stuffed animal, and takes this plot device to even greater heights here. She uses these tools to create a series of plot twists that the reader never sees coming, leading to a frightening conclusion that is stunning in its presentation and brilliant in its execution.
SCARED TO DEATH is a complete work in itself, with a definite ending and resolution. But more is coming. HELL TO PAY, the third book in the series, is excerpted in this novel and appears every bit as frightening and haunting as its predecessors. Wendy Corsi Staub is an author who is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 14, 2011