Look, everyone! I read and reviewed an ARC before its publication date in Canada! Shock and awe, people. Shock and awe. Mind you, I’m not sure this is meant for me, because its title seems more like it was addressed to Admiral Ackbar. The Trap isn’t out until May 28, and it will appeal to thrillers and people fond of books about writers, and also Star Wars characters fond of stating the obvious. If you would like to send me free books with titles reminiscent of famous movie quotes, please contact me.
I should also throw in the disclaimer that I’m not one to seek out thrillers, ordinarily, and when I do read thrillers, the results are almost always disappointing for all involved. I don’t want to pigeonhole the entire genre; there are plenty of good thrillers out there. But the tropes and structures such books tend to follow make it harder for me to enjoy them. So keep this in mind as I review The Trap: this is thriller I can totally get behind, but I’m still reviewing it from a perspective that a more seasoned thriller reader wouldn’t necessarily share.
At first this book, like its title, seems disappointingly mundane: Linda Conrads is 38, a renowned but reclusive author still tortured by the murder of her sister. She discovered her sister’s body all those years ago, and saw the killer’s face, but the police never made an arrest. Now she has seen that face once more, on television, and so she writes a thriller that fictionalizes the story of her sister’s murder. By drawing the murderer’s attention to the book, Linda hopes to draw him out and trick him into doing something that implicates him in that crime.
It’s one of those “either incredibly crazy or incredibly cunning” plans, and as the story goes on it looks increasingly like the former. Linda’s trap becomes more convoluted, more dangerous to herself, and seemingly less and less likely to actually work. Of course, this is all mirroring her own mental state, which becomes more fragile as her confrontation with the murderer draws near. And if this were all the book was, if the narrative was so straightforward as that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all.
But that confrontation comes and goes, and we’re only halfway through the book. Melanie Raabe has bigger, better plans in store.
I know unreliable narrators are nothing new in the land of psychological thrillers, but Raabe just pulls it off so, so well here. You really start to question how accurately Linda is relating the events as they happen. For me, much of the enjoyment of the novel came from trying to work out what the real story might be before Raabe reveals it. Who really is the killer? Is Linda’s sister even dead? How much of this actually happened, and how much of it is a fabrication of Linda’s mind? With every bit of the narrative filtered through Linda herself, no source of information is unbiased, and the book becomes a game between narrator and reader. It’s good times—well, for me. Not so much for Linda.
The story continues to take twists that, while not wholly unpredictable, are delightful in the way they ratchet up the suspense. Eventually, to my disappointment, it moves back into more standard thriller territory, with the physical threat and pure, adrenaline-powered fight-or-flight climax. More seasoned readers might see this as payoff, however.
I’m also not a huge fan of the novel-within-a-novel conceit. I recall this from another thriller, Work Done for Hire, and I wasn’t impressed with it there. I know it’s serving some purpose here—the weird kind of romantic sub-plot would feel even more tacked-on at the end if Raabe hadn’t telegraphed it from Linda’s novel—but I found myself skimming those portions so I could get back to Linda’s story, which felt more real to me. So I guess that’s good, because I was hooked?
The Trap is one of those pleasant surprises of a book in a style I don’t usually enjoy. It’s books like this that are the reason I try to read widely and challenge myself, even if it means that, on the flip side, I sometimes encounter absolute stinkers. Every once in a while, opening myself up to the unknown means that little gems like this land in my lap. Reading is often relaxing, and sometimes a chore, but The Trap just goes to show that, in the hands of a capable writer, thrillers offer up that rare feeling of a book that is enervating. This was actually a pretty good way to wind down my week.