A Stranger at the Door – Jason Pinter

This is the strong second entry in the Rachel Marin series. DO read the first, “Hide Away” before you read this! In “Hide Away”, Rachel, a brilliant mother of two, recalls what she did after her husband’s gory murder and the ongoing danger to her family. To protect them she learned extreme self-defense, set up a house in a new city, with new names and a powerful security system, complete with an escape room. “Hide Away’s” mystery involves the death of a former mayor in her new city, with Rachel risking her anonymity when she is convinced that this woman did not commit suicide. By the end of the novel (not really a spoiler!) Rachel is involved with the complicated Detective Serrano and the police recognize they have a very useful consultant in Rachel. In the second book, “A Stranger at the Door,” a teacher is murdered, shortly after he emailed Rachel seeking help with an issue relating to one of his students. He thinks her special skills might help. Soon after this, Rachel’s older child, Eric, a troubled loner who spends his life gaming and reading science fiction, is targeted by a businessman who uses vulnerable high school boys to carry out some work that might be sketchy or might be a genuine opportunity. A friend from her former life shows up. She recommended the new city to Rachel, but her return to Rachel’s life comes with a not so veiled threat to stay away from the murder investigation. Eric is rebelling and turning off his GPS as he roams about and comes home late. The businessman takes out a restraining order against Rachel after she confronts him in his well-secured office and, kind of, well, okay, she threatens him if he does not leave her son alone. What I like about Pinter’s writing is that he shows us the work and experiences that went into making his heroes and his villains. And that while we may have a dominant side between good and evil, we are all a mix, and what we do with that has consequences. He also shows that people can grow and learn and be better. But he does not sugarcoat this by making everything work out for everyone. The plot is well integrated and, while the clues are there, the red herrings are convincing and the tangles challenging. There is significant violence, so if you prefer cosies or tamer procedurals, stay away. There are also sweet scenes of family life, with Rachel’s little daughter Megan, a mystery writer at age seven or so, and a budding love match between Penny and Eric. Penny is Serrano’s partner Tally’s daughter. They are family friends and fun characters as a lesbian couple raising Tally’s child from a former marriage. The town itself is a character in both novels, with well-drawn sketches of streets, residents, its police force, neighboring town rivalries, and unexpected motivations from various characters. Me? I’m going back to read Pinter’s prior series! 

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