Jar of Hearts

Written by Jennifer Hillier

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Jar of Hearts
RRP: £12.99
Released: Aug 2 2018

This Jar of Hearts is especially breakable for a reviewer. Say too much and spoilers will tumble out. Say too little and this delicious thriller might remain cooped up in a vacuum-packed seal.

It is a cracker and one of the few review books I have ploughed through where the gushing front-cover endorsements are not overly wide of the mark.

The story starts with Georgina “Geo” Shaw, 30-year-old corporate heavy hitter engaged to the boss’s son, testifying in court as to her role in the grisly death of her high-school best-friend, Angela Wong. In the first act (Denial) she confesses that she helped her then lover-boy Calvin James dispose of Angela’s chopped up body in their suburban Seattle neighbourhood.

Unsurprisingly, the court takes a dim view of this and Geo is promptly hauled off to Hazelwood jail for five years. The reader is then treated to some very Orange is the New Black slices of prison life. Like those shown in the Netflix serial, Georgina’s stretch is a times comical, at times dangerous, terrifying and bitch-eat-bitch. With a lot of the latter including rape and murder thankfully broken by some tenderness. Gripping and rich in incident, Geo’s half-decade of survival would make a strong novel all on its own.

Anger covers some of the fallout beyond Hazelwood’s walls from Geo’s actions as a teenager and the fresh mayhem being wreaked in the Seattle area. Four new buried bodies turn up and Calvin has escaped from prison. Dogged cop Kaiser Brody has made it his mission to pin these crimes on this man.

The bulk of the book is devoted to Geo’s life as a free woman. Again, a book just about her readjustment would have been great. But Hillier cranks it up again in Bargaining and Depression. Geo moves in with her father, a gentle and forgiving doctor. She has just begun to accept the hatred and resentment from her neighbours when she hears about the fresh killings. The four new victims have been dispatched in a similar manner to Angela and some are marked with small lipstick hearts, harking back to Calvin’s favourite candy.

And from that parting shot, an urgent race against time begins. To find Calvin, to establish missing links, to keep the local population alive. To grant Geo a chance to do the right thing.

Do these things happen? Is Geo redeemed in the end? What is the significance of the jar of hearts?

You’ll have to plough through all four responses to grief and the final bit (Acceptance) to find out. But if you lift the lid off this jar, you’ll be hard-pressed to reseal it, I assure you. Hillier’s plotting is ingenious, the red herrings abundant and the writing crisp and pacey. The characters are believable and nuanced.

My sole caveat is one logical hole. In high school Kai Brody was a friend of both Angela’s and Geo’s, and in fact was known to be sweet on Geo. While his familiarity with the girls’ relationship and their social setting helps him investigate, I cannot imagine a police chief allowing a cop so close to the possible criminals to dig into those suspects’ particular misdeeds.

Hillier needed Brody to be who he was and know what he knew but there were a few times I was mentally ringing his boss to say “Um is he not a bit too close?”

That aside, a cracking read. Perfect for whiling away hours pool or beachside.  Or any side, come to think of it.

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