“Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier; Minotaur Books (352 pages, $26.99).
The family thriller continues to be a formidable trend in mystery fiction. After all, everyone has a family in some way — good, bad or indifferent.
Hillier puts a unique spin on the family thriller with a tense plot that includes a view of complicated characters as she shows in the highly entertaining “Little Secrets,” her sixth stand-alone. “Little Secrets” also works well as a private detective novel, a kidnapping heist, a look at debilitating grief as well as a solid tale about obsession and betrayal as a family falls apart in the wake of a crime.
Hillier brings the same invigorating storytelling to “Little Secrets” as she did to her 2018 “Jar of Hearts,” which won the International Thriller Writers’ best novel award.
Celebrity hairstylist Marin Machado is juggling packages, a call from her husband Derek and the crowds at Seattle’s popular Pike Place Market while tightly holding the hand of her four-year-old son Sebastian. But in a flash, Sebastian slips out of her hand and is gone. Vanished among the Christmas shopping crowd. The security cameras only show the child with a man wearing a Santa Claus suit, but then no further trace. No calls for ransom, no random sightings.
Nearly 16 months later, Marin remains shell-shocked about her son, counting how many hours and minutes it’s been since she saw him. She has little interest in managing her successful a chain of upscale hair salons although Derek seems more comfortable running the company he built from the ground up as well as taking frequent business trips. She blames herself for Sebastian’s disappearance and, in a way, so does Derek. The once close couple now rarely speak.
The police consider it a cold case, so Marin hires a private investigator who uncovers Derek’s months-long affair with grad student Kenzie Li, who thrives on being an Instagram celebrity. Kenzie considers herself a “professional girlfriend,” specializing in wealthy men from whom she can get money and expensive gifts. Marin’s reaction to Derek’s affair shocks her out of her depression as her anger and rage catapult her into a dark emotional place, seeking revenge.
Hillier skillfully shows how little lies that run through the story expand and overwhelm the characters, each of whom reaches a believable arc. Aside from Sebastian, no character is completely sympathetic, nor are any of them villains. Each character struggles with human flaws and frailties that, if allowed, could destroy them.
Hillier’s clever plotting and affinity for character studies elevates “Little Secrets.”