My friend Sue handed me her copy if CREEP to read. I started to read it later the same day. I thought the story was quite slow to get going but probably that was me being impatient as the author, Jennifer Hillier, was merely setting the scene and describing her characters. Once I got into the story, I could not put it down. The heroine is Dr Sheila Tao who is a Professor of Psychology at Puget Sound University in Seattle. She has a team of teaching assistants who are students at the university and are undertaking work in her department to help them understand their subject better.
One of Dr Sheila Tao's teaching assistants is Ethan Wolfe. He is good-looking, highly intelligent and clearly the most talented psychology student in his year. He fancies Dr Sheila but bides his time. Unknown to her, tasks Dr Sheila gives to Etham he sub-contracts to other students and then claims the work done as his own.
Dr Tao is a sex addict but she hadn't mentioned this to her fiancée - Morris Gardener. Morris is a tall, large man who trusts Sheila. However kind and nice he is with Sheila, Morris is utterly ruthless in business. Morris successfully played American Football and was at the top of his game when injury ended his career. He went into a new career of finance and became a wealthy, successful banker.
Ethan Wolfe saw his chance and managed to have a conversation with his university professor, Dr Sheila Tao when she was vulnerable and struggling with her sex addiction and the need to be honest with her fiancée. Sheila ended up having a sex session with Ethan. Afterwards, she bitterly regretted her folly but Ethan wanted more, so much more!
Ethan Wolfe secretly researched his subject: Sheila - her family; her home; her hobbies; where she bought her clothes; what she liked to eat etc. He broke into her home and fondled her underwear. This was one if the many activities he undertook that made me squirm. He even disguised himself and attended a job interview with Morris Gardener! Morris did not realise he was interviewing one of his fiancee's teaching assistant's, but he did think he recognised the candidate's voice. Morris was unable to put a name to the voice though.
Morris was estranged from one of his sons and Sheila had asked him to help with the guest list for her forthcoming wedding to Morris. Ethan decided he was not going to allow Sheila to marry Morris - she was his and his alone! He abducted Sheila and imprisoned her in the basement of his luxury home. He had his own girlfriend but she knew nothing of Ethan's huge wealth or large property. Ethan was a guy with a lot of secrets.
This novel left me wondering how much any of us know another person? Yes, the story was aptly titled as Creep. It made me feel very uncomfortable many times but mostly when he tied Sheila to a bed. There was a happy ending, thank goodness and Morris rescued Sheila from Ethan and he was happily reconciled with his estranged son.
As a psychologist, I love psychological thrillers, even more so when the main character is a psychologist, as they often allow greater insight into the human mind. The works of Jonathan Kellerman always entertain me and I've come across newer authors in the field in Aifric Campbell and N J Cooper. This, allied with Jennifer Hillier using the same title as my favourite Radiohead song, put me in an anticipatory mood for ''Creep''
Dr. Sheila Tao is a psychology professor at Puget Sound State University in Seattle. She lives a double existence, having an affair with one of her students, but then getting engaged to a banker and former American footballer in Morris. Knowing that this double life cannot last, she dumps the student, Ethan Wolfe, but can't bring herself to confide in her fiancé that part of the reason she was seeing him is that she's also a sex addict.
Ethan isn't about to let Sheila go without a fight. He threatens to expose their affair by posting a video on the internet that could ruin both the wedding and her career. When this fails to win her back, he kidnaps Sheila and forces her to leave messages suggesting she has left town suddenly. Morris doesn't believe she would just run out on their wedding and sets about finding the truth.
I liked ''Creep'' in the same way and for similar reasons I enjoyed "No Escape" by N J Cooper. The story has a slow burn, introducing the layers of the characters piece by piece. We get to see the different sides of Sheila; teacher, lover, sex addict. Ethan appears as sulky dumped lover, devoted boyfriend and humanitarian, giving his time at a soup kitchen for the homeless. Morris also has a depth to him beyond his work and his failed football career, as a former alcoholic and absent father.
Every stage of the story adds another layer to the characters. Some overcome past discretions; others are consumed by them. Just when you think you know a character, the story adds more, like a game of pass the parcel in reverse. Even with the sheer depth involved, I felt as if some aspects were only skimmed over and the book could have explored them more deeply. These missing parts were usually the ones the characters kept secret from each other, meaning the reader never felt a step ahead of the characters themselves, as can often happen. This was expertly done and left me wanting to know more, but that only happened when the time was right.
If there is one minor criticism of the story, it was that the pacing felt a little off. It was a slow burn novel and this worked incredibly well at building up suspense. However, it did seem to smoulder for a little too long before bursting into life and the denouement felt slightly rushed by comparison. It was always a fascinating read, full of either intrigue or adrenaline rush, but the combination of the two parts felt as if they were completely separate stories that didn't quite work together.
If you have the patience to persevere and particularly for those readers who appreciate something with a little more depth, ''Creep'' is ultimately an excellent read, with some well written characters and more reveals than a magician's show. How well put together the book is becomes even more impressive when you realise this is Jennifer Hillier's debut novel and I'm already wondering what may happen next from this clearly talented writer. There may be a bandwagon to jump on in future, but with the book available from a penny plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace, you could do a lot worse than to jump on it right away.
This is a slightly amended version of a review first published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk
Why read this?
This book could have easily passed me by if I hadn't read a review by a fellow member on Ciao. The cover depicting handcuffs, and being a suspense thriller, means that I am outside my genre here. But the reviewer had me interested enough to buy this one and read it at my earliest opportunity. Yes, it promised to have me on the edge of my seat. I looked forward to the experience.
As a recovering sex addict Dr Sheila Tao, a captivating oriental woman, is settled and in a cosy relationship with a successful charmer, ex America footballer, Morris Gardener. All is going well in her life until her estranged father dies and she collapses into the arms of her teaching assistant, graduate student, Ethan Wolfe. Three months later Morris proposes to her and after accepting she ends her affair with Ethan. After ending things with the attractive young man, 16 years her junior, she finds herself living in constant fear as Ethan threatens to end her relationship and career. He stalks her physically and via text/email. She is frightened....she should be, if he can't have her then no one can and especially not Morris.
What did I think?
The book appears thick but once you open the pages the text size is pretty large so I predicted the read would last a few days - a fast reader may get through it in a day. I don't mind large text for a change as it is easy on the eyes.
The style and format of the prose was different to anything I have read before and initially it took me a few pages to feel comfortable with it. As a few more pages turned I began to grow interested and I would say by the fifth chapter I was not wanting to put the book down. The first few chapters were setting the scene and settling the characters in before the heat got turned up.
I first meet Sheila, the main protagonist, in her work place at the University, where she teaches Psychology, and she seems a nice enough person though I could not really warm to her. Her character began to become more developed as the prose progressed and I discover why she has a sex addiction. This was interesting and I found it believable that she could possibly develop her addiction after her loveless first marriage, to a guy she walked in on having sex with a male work colleague. I did feel empathy for her and from there on I suppose that is when I started caring about what happened to her.
Her fiancé, Morris, is a recovered alcoholic. After injuring his knee he could not follow his dream career in football and was in a marriage, from a young age, that didn't make him happy. He turned to drink and in time the marriage ended. He went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after meeting with Sheila and she supported him through it. I found his character more likeable than Sheila's and therefore warmed to him much sooner. He is a strong, large man and handsome for his years. Distinctive and in a powerful position in a Bank. He is loyal and fiercely protective of those he loves. I liked him.
Ethan Wolfe was described as handsome, young, toned and very attractive. This may be appealing but his personality never was to me. Even before Sheila broke up with him I wondered what she saw in him. He was cocky and had attitude. He had odd behavioural problems - didn't like to be closed into a room by the door being shut. My alarm bells sounded early on in the book when Ethan was around. The author succeeded in making my skin crawl when she wrote about him and I thought it believable, of his psychotic personality, when he immediately turned on her with hate. It seems that if he had ended the relationship that would have been fine but for her to end it, for a man who he thought of as a fat boy (well, the words were much harsher than that, as there is bad language throughout the book, but I'll let you use your imagination here) infuriated him. He made a very good bad guy and the psychological games began.
Other characters are woven into the prose nicely and include Sheila's therapist, Marianne, who is also a close friend. Her husband, Jerry, will also come into this tale when Sheila leaves town in a hurry - thought to have wanted to start a new life - but Morris' instinct tells him that she is more likely missing. A quick police investigation into her being missing is closed with them being satisfied that she left, after telling Morris about her addiction, and didn't want to be found. It is then that Morris hires Jerry and the unlikely duo go to work. I liked this concept and thought that it worked in two different ways. Firstly, the prose wasn't bogged down with the police investigation stuff and allowed for underhand ploys, boyish antics and sheer bloody mindedness to play out. Secondly this crazy duo added a bit of humour to the prose which I found refreshing.
As the plot develops I thought that I had guessed the outcome, I was surprised it began so soon in the book and I thought I was going to be going through the motions from then on. I was wrong and I'm glad I was. Something sinister and very unexpected came to light ,after a frantic search for Sheila.
The pace is on fire once this tale is set up and I couldn't put the book down - I had to eventually but I was reluctant. Some parts of the book reminded me of scenes from the series called Dexter, but don't worry when you come to that bit - this is not a copycat Dexter.
By the end of the book I was in suspense and actually cared about what happened to Sheila, in her horrifying predicament. I physically winced at times. The ending comes thick and fast and I hardly have time to take in the information and register the outcome. The finale surprised me but was satisfactory.
Morris will search for Sheila until his death if need be - he knows she has not left town to begin a new life and he fears something may have happened to her ...someone is playing mind games and eventually he will discover who that is. All is not what it appears in this one...
This was a new genre for me, not something that would normally appeal. I am glad that I gave it a chance as it was a suspenseful and thrilling read - once it warmed up. I knock one star off as, for me, it did seem a little slow initially. Once the story got going it was a page turner and I couldn't put it down. I liked the twists, turns and uncertainties - it got my pulse going at the end. The author managed to get me to care about Sheila, the main protagonist, eventually but first impressions didn't appeal. Morris was endearing straight away and I rooted for him when he put himself in danger. Out of the pair of them Morris was my main concern. Ethan filled the role of psychotic bad guy well - I didn't have any feelings for him at all - he had a girlfriend, Abby, who remained two dimensional though we do get to know her a little better nearing the end of the book - I would have liked to know a little more as she seemed an interesting character. When the pace got going it was a good tempo, especially near the end of the book. Glad I read it and would recommend for a suspenseful read - once it gets going.
Also published on Ciao