The Art of Fear by Pamela Crane is a 2017 publication of about 306 pages, but the reader will not feel there are this many pages. This is a very fast-paced novel, capturing and holding interest for at least 75% of the novel. It then slows a bit as Crane ties up some loose ends and comes to an ending which is OK, logical, and with a surprise but I did not feel the ending lived up to the promise of earlier parts of the novel. This is worth reading for the first 75% alone; it is very entertaining as it presents lots of tricks and distractions which will entertain the reader’s mind even after taking a break in the reading. Read it all at once; you will be distracted if you don’t.
The prologue and subsequent chapters have handy date annotations. These are necessary, so the reader can be aware of foreshadowing and flashbacks. Ultimately, all actions take place over four generations, so it is good to pay attention to chapter or segment headings. This is also necessary because a few characters change names for either personal or law enforcement avoidance issues. This structure also made the novel more interesting for me.
The prologue begins inside the mind of a killer as the killer philosophizes on the beauty of death while carving up a victim. We don’t know whether this is a serial killer or not, but the implication is there. This killer enjoys the liberation of the soul, watching the eyes when the victim dies, and otherwise exhibiting a disregard for normal social conventions. The following first few chapters will introduce the reader to Tina (also Sophie) and Ari. Both are seriously flawed, both are looking for answers, and they initially meet through a group therapy session. This provides Crane with a host of flawed characters; there might be sequels.
The Triad Suicide Support Group was a brainchild of Ari Wilburn. She had lost a sister, Cali when she was ten years old. Ari believed she had pushed her sister, accidentally of course, into the path of an oncoming car. Her parents reinforced this belief; mom even said she saw it happen. Over time, the parents decided they didn’t want Ari anymore, she went to a few group homes and the suicide attempts began.
Sophia was a younger six-year-old daughter in a family that had fallen on hard economic times. George was a talent scout for young models that offered Josef a sum of money for each year that he agreed to loan Sophia to George. The only thing surprising here is the supposed naivete of Josef. Can anyone be this stupid? Probably not, as we find Josef agreeing that just one more year of model placement was all that was needed before Sophia could return home. This went on for eleven years. Josef had decided not to know what he knew. This worked for him and the money kept coming in until Sophia escaped and became Tina.
As these principals try to untwist their twisted pasts, police are trying to solve a series of murders that are increasing with shorter periods of time between each incident. Josef, father of Sophia/Tina dies. She might even be a suspect and probably was until someone tried to kill her. Then someone tried to kill Tina’s brother Killian. And Tina been found by her former child model agent, George. The agent had threatened Tina, now Sophie, as well as additionally threatening Tina’s new best friend, Ari.
Ari did not know everything about Tina/Sophie. Every few days in their relationship a new layer of Tina’s past was revealed. This was frustrating to Ari as she was at the same time trying to resolve her issues through dream analysis therapy sessions. Ari was also late in discovering the new hot guy in her own therapy group, Tristan was and an undercover cop trying to solve the ongoing series of assaults, murders, and attempted murders. It is easy to see Ari having trust issues; everyone around her was lying to her or at least lying by omission.
Ari’s character supplies most of the snappy, comedic lines with some good comeback lines from an undercover cop and romantic interest Tristan. Sometimes it is too affected. At one point Ari suffers a stab wound that she believes is fatal. As she fades to black there is this: “I hadn’t even gotten a chance to tell Tristan goodbye … or how much I wanted to jump his bones.” (4734-4736). While not claiming expert knowledge about near-death experiences, I hope my last thoughts would be on a higher level than about unfulfilled but hoped for sexual experiences.
Despite the weak ending and the weirdly placed humor, I gave this four Amazon stars because the rest of the book was so interesting and twisted. A fun read to be done in one sitting.