‘A Familiar Sight’ – Dr Gretchen White #1 by Brianna Labuskes – highly recommended.

I like to plan my reading and read what I plan. The plan did not include spending the weekend completely under the spell of a book I didn’t know anything about a day earlier.

My first mistake was in checking the books on offer for free under Amazon’s ‘First Reads’ scheme. When I saw ‘A Familiar Sight’, I remembered that I’d enjoyed an earlier First Read by Brianna Labuskes, ‘Her Final Words’ and decided to try another.

My second mistake was in opening the book after I’d downloaded it, just to see what it was like. I looked up an hour later, knowing that this book owned me. It didn’t matter what I’d planned to read. THIS was what I HAD to read.

So what hooked me? In a market crowded with psychological thrillers, this one felt fresh and original with cliché-free characters with sharp edges and more than a few surprises. And the storytelling was mesmerising.

The plot unfolds in short, lean, well-written chapters that alternate between two characters: Dr Gretchen White, an allegedly non-violent sociopath who is an acknowledged expert in antisocial personality disorders and has a track record of helping Boston PD solve violent crimes, and Reed Kent, a Southey boy who made it to Harvard, married an heiress and is now best known as the father of Viola Kent, a psychopathic little girl who is on trial for stabbing her mother to death. The Gretchen storyline is linear and set in the Now. The Reed storyline moves up and down the timeline before and after his wife’s death. Each chapter offered me something new, often changing my perception of the who did what to whom and why and always leaving me hungry for the next chapter so that I found myself on an unplanned binge read.

The book held me all the way through by a mix of clever pacing, tight plotting and strong characters. I liked the fact that, although my perception of who the bad guys were and even what it was they’d done kept changing, I could always, almost see it coming so that I felt as if I was working the puzzle out and I never felt that the author had cheated. Everything fitted together, but seldom in the way I’d expected them to.

But what really made the book stand out was the character of Dr Gretchen White and the relationship she builds with the detective assigned to ‘babysit’ her in this investigation. Gretchen thinks differently from ’empaths’. She’s good at reading power and politics but poor at reading some emotions. She controls her violent impulses, most of the time. She enjoys taking risks and pushing people’s buttons. Getting a close-up view of the recently killed is a bonus but what she most needs is to know what happened.

‘A Familiar Sight’ held me for an entire weekend and got better and better with each chapter. The best thing is that it’s the first book in series of Dr Gretchen White books. I’ll be there for the rest of them and I hope the next one arrives soon.

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