Reviewed by Shannon Hopkins

There is something in human nature that draws us to stories of twisted crimes and evil people, monsters who walk and talk as we do, even as we instinctively recoil from and condemn their actions. We seek to confront the dark and unnatural in the safety of written pages, all the while hoping that we never actually meet in person. Brandi Lynn Ryder’s In Malice, Quite Close is just that sort of compelling tale.

In the first few paragraphs, the Tristan Mourault’s first-person narration indicates a man who is somehow…off. “This is my apology,” he says, and waxes poetic about an obsession with beauty that led him to years of assorted sexual conquests – his “studies”, as he calls them – that culminate in his chance encounter with the girl who would become Gisele.

Karen Miller is an unhappy fifteen-year-old in San Francisco, who writes and draws and dreams of something better. She is drawn to Tristan for his culture and knowledge and the promise of exotic, foreign places that flows out through his French accent. When her idle talk of getting away becomes all too real, she faces her own metaphorical death as Tristan shapes her into Gisele, his project and his muse.

Fifteen years later, Gisele’s daughter Nicola makes a surprising discovery in their home at Falconer’s Point that sets off a disquieting chain of events; suddenly, secrets from the past begin to emerge and threaten the peaceful life that Nicola has known. The already complicated relationships between Tristan, Gisele and those around them become even more so when student Amanda Miller comes to Devon in search of her long-lost older sister. As each character searches for answers, tensions rise until a mysterious death makes each of them a suspect. Who would kill to keep the past buried…and who will the truth destroy?

Throughout In Malice, Quite Close, Ryder provides a troubling look at the nature of evil by suggesting that nobody is truly innocent or completely corrupt. Tristan is a charming, likeable, dynamic man whose deep-rooted issues motivate his most heinous acts. At the same time, the reader is forced to question the motives of every supporting character and even those of Gisele herself – what darkness exists in her, the one-time “victim”, that allows her to truly become a part of the world she has entered? Nobody at Falconer’s Point finds redemption, but with Ryder’s portrayal they are at least understood.

Ryder’s superb writing and seamless transition between first- and third-person narrative, and her ability to maintain a steady level of suspense throughout, make this a fascinating read from the first page all the way to the unexpected, chilling end.

I have never before read a book that was so profoundly disturbing and simultaneously enthralling as In Malice, Quite Close. This is the ideal read for those who enjoy a multilayered story, complex characters, and exciting plot twists, and is a great addition to the “read over and over again” shelf.

Rating: 5/5

Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fiancé and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.