Blue Rock Academy based in the harsh yet beautiful mountains of Southern Oregon is the perfect place for young people who have gone off the rails and need discipline, help and encouragement to make the best of their future. It's also for many of its students, the last chance before correctional school or even worse. With a dedicated staff headed by the charismatic Reverend Lynch, a strong team of teachers and counselors it is the choice of Edie Stillman when her daughter Shaylee (Shay) seventeen and running wild, needs a last chance before she's sent to jail.
However, her half-sister Julia (Jules) Farentiono thinks her mother almost inhuman by sending the troubled teenager away from her home, family and friends. Jules has her own problems, which leaves her with troubled sleep and bad migraines that impact on her ability to do her choice of career, teaching History. Ever since her father was stabbed to death almost in front of her, Jules finds it hard to trust any man, let alone her ex-boyfriend, Cooper Trent. But when Jules decides the only way to help Shay out is to accept a teaching post at Blue Rock Academy, she finds that Trent is already there in the capacity of Physical Education teacher and helper to the Stablemen.
Already there is speculation about the school when a pupil went missing, but troubled teenagers do run away. Blue Rock isn't the sort of place that allows its pupils to get away though and after a double murder of a student couple in horrendous circumstances happens, a terrified Shay begs Jules to get her away. Before she can do anything though a weather front moves in and the school is locked down in what is already being called the 'storm of the century.' As the violence escalates and both staff and students become short-tempered, it's s race against time for Jules aided by Trent, to find the person behind the terror- for one thing is sure, the killer has no mercy and will strike again if not stopped.
Behind the Book.
This is the first novel I've read by author Lisa Jackson and I took a chance on it as the write-ups for the book and the author's previous books were so encouraging. Apparently she is hailed as an author of best-selling books in America and has written ten up to this one that was only published here in the UK in paperback in 2011.
Certainly the elements of a best seller are all here and the book promised me a page-turning read. A mysterious school where the pupils are liable to become cult members, (some of the ex-pupils return as teaching aides), a place that's so remote not even the local police can get there and a man that is stalking the female pupils. This is a murder mystery with an added bonus of a pair of ex-lovers and sisters who cannot let on who they are for fear of losing their liberty. Blue Rock is a harsh place and its terrors are relentless.
One problem I had with the characters was that they were slightly predictable with the premise of troubled sisters something that has been done before in different books and in different styles. Still, I took to the character of Jules straightaway, although it took some time for me to discover she was only in her mid-twenties. This explained some of her behavior, which didn't come across as that of a woman in control of her life. Granted, she had issues with her own father dying but I felt that wasn't covered enough and left a lot to speculate about. Her sister Shay being the daughter of Edie's second husband Max she obviously didn't have the same issues as Jules, but Jules is very protective of her to a degree that didn't ring true. In fact there was so much hidden background I expected some of the things that did happen, something I prefer not to guess until the end. Saying that the ending is very unpredictable and I only guessed a part of it, leaving plenty of suspense right up to the last pages. At 424 pages in quite small print I felt that took some plotting.
As a reviewer I usually class the books I review as plot or character driven, with a few combining both in equal measures. This came into the last category with enough suspense and imaginative prose to keep any reader engrossed in each twist and turn, and there are plenty in almost every chapter. Obviously the main characters are Shay, the troubled teenager who somehow got herself into so much trouble it's hard to feel that sorry for her. Then Jules, who should steal the show, but remains a real force, but not the driving one. I liked her character a lot and had no trouble believing in her.
Her ex-boyfriend Cooper Trent is an enigma, but the reader learns enough about him to trust his character, about the only man in the book that appears trustworthy. The two religious leaders are suspect from the start, with such a place as the academy its natural to expect a religious conspiracy at least and a mania at worse. The founder and head of school, the reverend Tobias Lynch is obviously hiding something and can the assistant minister Frank McAllister be as nice as he appears to be?
Apart from that there are plenty of the pupils who could be up to no good and there is plenty of the normal bulling that goes on in any school. Let alone one with all its pupils troubled by one thing or another. With the voice of the killer being heard every now and again it could be anyone, although very soon in the book the reader will have an inkling which of several suspects it could be. Like me I expect you'll get it wrong.
Apart from the usual differences in language (American English) the author writes well with plenty of authority and a style that grips the reader with each page. In fact I did sometimes expect a break in the tension just for a change of pace. Without reading any of her other books then I don't know if her style is consistent, but she does have some good phrases and her technique is shocking enough for any reader to appreciate (though definitely not for the faint-hearted). She also describes the sexual act in some length, so be warned if you don't approve or enjoy such titivation, there is quite a lot in the narrative.
Apart from that I loved the descriptive elements of the countryside, which the author does well. The setting is remote, yet the beauty is considerable with snow-capped mountains and icy lakes. The Academy has horses as part of the outdoor attractions and a lot of the action takes place near to the stables. If you love animals then expect some parts will upset you a little, though there is no mindless cruelty involved.
So what did I think?
Overall I think its worth five stars for the purpose, the energy and the relentless pace of the narrative combined with good story telling and some believable characters. This is a thriller and it's meant to both shock and entertain, so if you don't want to be shocked then this isn't for you. I enjoyed the read and yet I still felt it lacked something special which comes from some authors who write consistently well with a set of characters we get to know, such as Patricia Cornwall, Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter, to name a few.
Maybe I haven't yet read enough of this author's writing; she seems to have quite a following. This is fast-paced and has plenty of twists, so a book that can be read in one sitting or savored over a weekend. I think it will appeal to men and women equally.
My book was from the library who are getting used to my requests for new and stimulating stories. I found it for £5.25 new on Amazon with few second-hand copies at the moment.
Thanks for reading my review.