Thorn in the Flesh by Anne Brooke

THORN
Thorn in the Flesh by Anne Brooke
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (149 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Kate Harris, a lecturer in her late thirties, is attacked in her home and left for dead. This terrible assault and the anonymous hate letters she starts to receive bring to light the past she’d prefer to leave behind, a past which includes the son she bore in her teenage years and whom she chose to give away.

What happens to Kate also affects the people she counts as friends and colleagues now. She has been in love with her best friend, Nicky, for a long time but Nicky is happily married with two young children and Kate is determined never to upset the lives of those she cares for.

However, when she makes the momentous decision to contact the father of her long-forgotten son, and then to trace her son as well, Kate inadvertently sets in motion a series of frightening events she seems to have no control over. Can she protect herself and those she loves from the menacing enemy who stalks them all?

How do you outsmart a villain who knows all of your deepest, darkest secrets?

After she is violently assaulted, all Kate Harris wants to do is return to her old life. While she certainly needs time to recover from such a traumatic experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see Kate being surrounded by such sympathetic friends, medical professionals, and law enforcement officers as she heals. It was even more gratifying to see Kate acknowledge what happened to her without allowing it to be the defining experience of her life.

After the terror of the first scene the plot slows down for several chapters. I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the longstanding friendship between Kate and Nicky, her best friend. They clearly have known one another a long time, and their bond is so strong that even when they’re grouchy I felt the love and concern behind their complaints.

What I didn’t understand about this novel was why Kate refuses to tell the police about the anonymous threats she receives after she’s discharged from the hospital. At the very least they could have documented what was happening in case her tormentor decides to escalate the situation. Yes, sometimes the police don’t respond to these things appropriately, but I didn’t understand why a woman who had positive interactions with them in the past wouldn’t try a little harder to keep the authorities up-to-date.

With that being said, Kate Harris is a wonderfully nuanced protagonist. As I read this book, I felt like I was catching up with an old, dear friend whose choices occasionally frustrate me. At times I wished Kate was a real person so I could gently scold her for making such poor decisions in the past. A woman as intelligent and socially aware as her really ought to know better, but the strong character development and attention to detail made this book impossible to put down.

Thorn in the Flesh is a slow burning mystery woven into the ordinary lives of a close-knit group of friends. This is a great choice for readers who prefer to get to know characters well before the plot heats up. The payoff at the end is well worth the initial emotional investment!

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