“You can’t judge someone’s internal state by their external attributes.”
January 2019 | St. Martin’s Press
Opening Hook: Make-up artist seeks quick cash by being a liar.
Main Character: Let’s her assumptions make her seem crazy.
Plot Twisty-ness: Subtle and ominous.
I’m a total sucker for anything that is psychologically leaning. And I don’t mean the trend of “psychological thrillers.” I mean real psychology, human nature, predicting behaviour and analyzing it. I’m a straight-up glutton when it comes to that kind of stuff and not for any sinister reason. It’s like not I’m trying to figure out the best way to appear human or some shit. If I was smarter, I probably would have been a psychologist. In another part of the multi-verse perhaps I am.
But in the here and now that we find ourselves trapped in (there’s been some kind of tear in the fabric of our universe and we ended up in a strange hell where Trump and Putin are going to destroy all life on Earth, I’m sure of it,) I’m just a girl with a deep fascination for dark psychology and no way to really express that except to watch endless true crime documentaries and read books like An Anonymous Girl, and have people think I’m weird.
The basic gist is this: 28-year-old makeup artist Jess, needs some cash because living in NYC is expensive AF, but compounded by also trying to cover the medical bills of her brain-damaged younger sister, she’s barely getting by. She overhears from a client a way to make a quick $500. All she has to do is participate in a psychological study on morality and ethics conducted by Dr. Shields, a highly respected psychologist and professor who charges a cool $425 an hour for her services.
Bitch better fix every one of my neuroses, even the ones I don’t know I have, for $425 an hour. Just saying.
Based on the answers Jess – also known as Subject 52 – gives during the question period, Dr. Shields determines she’s a perfect candidate to help with the next step of the study, which will focus on cheating spouses and requires real-life experiments with unsuspecting people. For every task Jess completes in the outside world – flirting with a married man at a bar, approaching a married man at a museum – she is given large payouts from the good doctor. The big cheques are enough to keep her from asking too many questions about what she’s doing and why… for a while.
Very quickly things take a devious and twisted turn that involves Dr. Shields’ own husband and a previous study participant, Subject 5, who died by suicide.
Though Jess is falling deeper under a spell of infatuation (not in a sexual way, but that would have made things very interesting) with the beautiful, smart and well-dressed Dr. Shields, she’s also concerned that what she’s participating in might not be on the up-and-up. Slowly, Jess and Dr. Shields morph into semi-unreliable narrators as the POVs switch throughout the story. Is Dr. Shields some kind of evil mastermind? What happened to Subject 5? Or is Jess just losing her mind?
There are a lot of puzzle pieces falling into place throughout the course of the book. Everything was kept to a sustainable pace. Maybe some would call it a “slow burner”, but it wasn’t slow to me. The plot was always moving which created a “thriller” like quality, but it was also quiet. It was deliberate and calm in its choices, and I equate this to mirroring the characteristics of Dr. Shields and the plan she was executing.
So, while other readers thought it was boring or that the twists weren’t extravagant enough, I really appreciated the slow and quiet precision with which this book operated because it felt very true to the character orchestrating the plot.
I did sometimes I find the revelations to be a bit a jumbled or unclear, and it would take me an extra beat to figure out how something fit together with the overall plot progression. I think this was because the info was given without the kind of explosive twisty scene one tends to expect from a thriller. It was a quiet presenting of new information that required more thinking to place together, instead of being one big twist that was slapped upside your head, meant to knock you over.
The plot came across like puzzle pieces being gently laid into place, revealing the bigger, darker picture bit by little bit. And it happened in such a focused, subtle way that it felt like a continual pull of suspense, and less like shocks and thrills. It was thrilling, but I would say mostly for those who are fascinated with human nature and manipulation. Which are, like, two of my favourite things.
Beyond the plot, I really enjoyed the authors’ writing style. It had an easy, natural flow to the prose. The information being presented felt smooth and transitional, while still being gripping. It was detailed, but without being overbearing or boring. Anything mentioned – what a character was wearing for example – always elevated the personality of a character or the atmosphere of the situation. It didn’t seem like detail for the sake of creative control.
In my humble-ish opinion, in order to love this book, you need to go into it not expecting to be “thrilled” but expecting to have your mind and perceptions played with. Letting the elements of paranoia wash over you without ever expecting the jump scare that isn’t coming.
There are a lot of subtle moments of suspense – feelings of being watched, stalked, characters that are scared (without the dramatics.) It’s a cracker of a psychological thriller, with a heavy leaning on the psychological side, which I found so fascinating and engrossing that I finished this in just a couple of sittings over the weekend.
This is not at all what I thought it was going to be, but I’m pretty happy about that. There are so many “girl” psychological thrillers packing this genre, that it was nice to read something that was mentally engaging and took a different approach to crafting a thriller.
Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.
When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.
Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?
But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking… and what she’s hiding.
Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?
As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.
Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?
From the authors of the blockbuster bestseller The Wife Between Us comes an electrifying new novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone.