SHADOW CREEK shouldn’t work, but it does. It takes the teen scream premise that has launched so many movies, turns it upside down, and shakes it up into something entirely different. This does not occur by accident. Credit goes to author Joy Fielding for taking the expected and giving it to the reader, but then transforming those expectations just a bit, combining the familiar and the not-so-familiar into a one-sit reading experience.
Tell me if this sounds plausible. Valerie is on the cusp of divorce from her husband Evan. They have a 16-year-old want-to-strangle daughter named Brianne. The plan is that Evan and his fiancée, Jennifer, will take Brianne with them to a resort in the Adirondacks while Valerie celebrates her birthday with Melissa and Steve, her offbeat friends. We’re okay so far. What happens instead is that sans Evan, the five of them wind up in the Adirondacks sharing a suite. How could that happen? I’m not going to tell you how, but Fielding builds this totally implausible plot and makes the reader believe it.
"SHADOW CREEK shouldn’t work, but it does. It takes the teen scream premise that has launched so many movies, turns it upside down, and shakes it up into something entirely different."
If things weren’t tense enough (the zingers that Valerie directs toward the much younger Jennifer are worth the price of admission all by themselves), Brianne has some plans for the trip that will increase her excitement level one-hundred fold, and they don’t include boating. Meanwhile, one of the guests at the resort goes missing. The absence is initially believed to be the result of a lover’s quarrel, but readers know better since they are aware that the Charles Starkweather/Caril Ann Fugate type of couple is hanging around the area and have been very busy in a homicidal kind of way. You just know that the pair is going to encounter Valerie’s group sooner or later.
Predictable? Sure. However, it’s the journey that makes this book worth reading. Fielding likes to break and bend narrative rules, unspoken and otherwise, in subtle ways. She begins the novel with a sentence that, if conventional wisdom is being followed, should never be used in an introduction. One of the principal characters, a real mover and shaker of events behind the scenes, never makes an appearance. And while probably best classified as romantic suspense, SHADOW CREEK does not land squarely within that genre on all fours. Yes, there is a bit of romance here and there, but for the most part, the interplay between the sexes is not exactly what one would classify as “romance.” Fielding is not so much concerned here with classifications as with telling a good story, one that is full of surprises and twists and turns that keep coming practically until the last page. You will see some of these curveballs coming, and there are others that you won’t, but you will never be disappointed.
SHADOW CREEK is not all murder, betrayal and vicious repartee between the woman scorned and her somewhat embarrassed replacement. It has a subtle underlying theme concerning the relationships between parents and children at all stages in life, one that may cause you to pick up the phone and call that parent or child to whom you haven’t spoken for a bit. This is a compelling book on several levels, one that is worthy of consideration and discussion.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 14, 2012