This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for The Haunting of Secrets, hosted by Bewitching Book Tours.
The Haunting of Secrets was first published in 2014 and is the debut novel of Shelley R Pickens. It is a murder mystery, focusing on a teenage girl with strange powers as she tries to prevent a serial killer from picking off the students in her school. The novel is the first of a planned series, although at the time of writing a release date has not been given for its sequel.
Sixteen year old Aimee has gained a reputation at her school for being weird. She dresses entirely in black clothes that cover all of her skin, avoids extra-curricular activities and only socialises with a handful of friends. What they don’t know is that she possesses an incredible power. With a single touch, Aimee can read a person’s memories and therefore absorb all the secrets that are hidden deep in their hearts.
When a bomb detonates in her school cafeteria, Aimee’s life is thrown into chaos. As she escapes the collapsing building, she accidentally brushes against another student and discovers that he leads a terrifying double life. Although he projects the image of an ordinary teenager, he has already savagely murdered two girls and will do so again.
Aimee is horrified by what she has seen but has one problem – she does not know whose memories she absorbed. With the help of her friends, she begins to piece together the evidence to reveal the killer. But time is running out. The murderer is aware that she is on to him and plans to permanently silence her before she can uncover his identity.
Before I continue with this review, I think that it’s only fair to warn you that this novel contains content that some readers may find disturbing. The story is incredibly dark and is clearly aimed at older teens as there are scenes of gore, threat and torture throughout the story. It’s probably best to avoid this story if you are particularly sensitive to any of these things.
It is always difficult to talk about mystery stories without revealing too much so I will try to be as brief and spoiler free as possible with my assessment of the story. The Haunting of Secrets is an engaging and intelligently written novel. It benefits greatly from its short length as this means that it never wastes time on pointless tangents and remains focused on its plot. This efficiently streamlines the story, ensuring that there is nothing to distance the reader from the very serious subject matter.
Aimee’s powers allow for the mystery to develop steadily as the story progresses, with clues gradually revealed each time she has a vision of the killer’s memories. The inclusion of her powers – the only supernatural element in the plot – help to add a layer of originality to the tale and therefore make the story very memorable. Aimee’s chapters are interspersed with ones from the killer’s perspective, showing that he is closing in on her, and this enables for tension to mount up rapidly as the story progresses, soon making the novel difficult to put down. There are also many hints left in the second half of the book as to a greater story involving the nature of Aimee’s powers which I am very curious to see developed in future novels.
If I had to criticise something, I would say that I felt that the eventual killer reveal was a little obvious. By process of elimination, I had already figured out who had to be responsible quite early in the story and I naturally prefer a novel which keeps me guessing to the last moment. There were also some horror clichés at work in the ending (which the novel seemed to be fully aware of) which I had seen just a few too many times before. I won’t go into detail as I don’t want to spoil the ending but I’ll just say that, while I can see why the author chose to use such plot devices in the name of misdirection, I had hoped to see something a little more original. It was also disappointing that the characters never discovered who set the bomb (this is revealed to the reader in the final chapter but I was expecting for it to tie into the murders in some way) but I accept that perhaps something more will be made of this in a future installment.
The strongest point of the novel by far was the protagonist. In Aimee, Pickens provided a very powerful and relatable female lead. Although her dialogue is a little exposition heavy at times, I felt that I could really connect with Aimee. I sympathised with her inability to allow herself to be close to others and appreciated her desire to show that she could use her powers to benefit others. Aimee’s friends, Dejana and Leah, were both also refreshingly strong characters and it was very nice to read a novel in a high school setting where the female leads have more to their personalities than an obsession with boys and make up.
Aimee’s relationship with Logan was also portrayed believably within the story. When Logan was introduced as a character I was a little worried about his relationship with Aimee as I felt that the novel could easily turn into a typical paranormal romance, leaving Aimee to endlessly fawn over her dominant male counterpart. Fortunately, the romantic elements within the story were very downplayed, leading to a light and very sweet relationship between them. While Logan was the least memorable of the principal cast, he still made a nice counterpart for Aimee and allowed for her to develop beyond her “sullen Goth” persona.
So, what did I think on the whole? Well, The Haunting of Secrets is a very sound and well written mystery that kept me hooked from start to finish. While I found the ending to be a little predictable, the story more than made up for this with an incredibly strong female cast and some intriguing plot elements that I hope to see resolved in the sequel. The Haunting of Secrets is well worth a read and I’m very interested to take a look at more of Pickens’s work in the future.
The Haunting of Secrets can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk