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The Stranger Behind You


The Stranger Behind You

To say that THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU, Carol Goodman’s latest novel, is yet another product of the #MeToo movement would be doing the book a great disservice.

After years of anxiety, bouts of claustrophobia and trouble sleeping, Goodman's mother learned from her doctor that she was exhibiting signs of serious PTSD from a sexual assault. The attack occurred when she was 18 years old and was never spoken about for 60 years until that doctor’s visit. It really hits home when you can relate to a subject as more than just headline fodder for gossip magazines. Knowing that this was the clear impetus for Goodman to write THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU made reading it that much more meaningful for me.

"Goodman saves some great plot twists for the last part of the book, including a big one that I never saw coming --- the kind of surprise that will make readers want to go back and reread it."

At the start of the novel, we see journalist Joan Lurie shopping for a new apartment. When the realtor recognizes her as “the one who wrote that story in Manahatta exposing Caspar Osgood,” Joan responds in the affirmative and makes sure to mention that Osgood is indeed guilty. A newspaper tycoon and notorious sexual predator, Osgood had escaped justice for his misdeeds for many years --- that is, until he was finally exposed in Joan’s controversial piece.

As a result of her newfound notoriety, Joan ends up choosing her new apartment based on security. This new place, the Refuge, has a round-the-clock doorman and security cameras everywhere. However, this does not prevent Joan from being accosted and knocked unconscious with a handkerchief of chloroform. Thankfully, she was not sexually assaulted; it seemed that the attacker just wanted to look for something in her apartment. Not long after this incident, Joan learns that Osgood committed suicide in his family pool.

THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU shares narration with Joan and Osgood’s widow, Melissa. Initially, Melissa seeks revenge on Joan, who she blames for driving her husband to suicide and destroying her family. Joan is working on turning her exposé on Osgood into a book and thus must dig a little deeper into his background. She learns of another incident not reported in her article that might have been the most damaging to him. She is determined to find out what that is and use it as the big sell for her nonfiction work.

Joan is aware that there may be some strange things going on at the Refuge. When she meets up with its oldest resident, 96-year-old Lillian Day, she finally learns about the history of the place. Lillian has been there since the 1940s when the Refuge was run by the infamous Magdalen nuns and was called the Magdalen Laundry and Refuge for Fallen Women. She has some great stories to share that include not only the nuns but also the Murder, Inc. mobsters of that era from whom she is hiding out.

Along with her publisher, Joan is able to locate the young woman who was the primary witness for the Hi-Line incident that took place between her and Osgood. She had believed that no one would ever tell her story or bring her justice. Melissa has become obsessed with Joan and even takes an apartment in the Refuge unbeknownst to her. She finds her way into Joan’s place and sees the many sticky notes that are posted filled with information about Osgood for her book. Melissa decides to play detective herself.

The final third of the book is a real rollercoaster ride that finds Joan and Melissa coming together over information each has learned about Osgood. Joan continues to believe that she is not paranoid and that someone is really out to get her, feeling unsafe even in her sanctuary. Goodman saves some great plot twists for the final pages, including a big one that I never saw coming --- the kind of surprise that will make you want to go back and reread it.

THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU is a timely novel but also one that connects the sins of the past to those of the present.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 9, 2021

The Stranger Behind You
by Carol Goodman