Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews The Black Widow (Harper, $7.99) by Wendy Corsi Staub.
Out tomorrow (Tuesday, 2/24), The Black Widow marks the conclusion of Staub’s social networking-themed trilogy, which includes The Good Sister (2013) and The Perfect Stranger (2014). The book is Staub’s twenty-second adult suspense thriller, though she has written more than eighty novels in a prolific career that has garnered accolades including the RWA Rita Award, the RT Bookreviews Award for Career Achievement in Suspense, the RWA/NYC Golden Apple for Lifetime Achievement, and four WLA Washington Irving Awards for Fiction. She has also twice been nominated for the prestigious Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award.
The book opens with a bang: Under the cover of darkness, “Alex” dispatches of her latest victim, and then resumes a seemingly mundane existence with the break of day. Meanwhile, Gabriela “Gaby” Duran—Staub’s customary everywoman protagonist—is taking her first tentative steps back into the world of dating following a painful divorce that resulted from the heartbreaking and divisive experience of losing a child. At the insistence of her cousin, Jaz, Gaby signs up for an online dating site (InTune), and is dismayed to find that her ex, Ben, also has a profile and is actively looking for love.
A veteran of complicated storylines that meld seamlessly, Staub deftly alternates between characters and scenes, and it soon becomes apparent that Alex has a type—and that Ben fits her profile perfectly. Given that she’s been using InTune to troll for guys, it’s almost inevitable that he’ll end up on her radar. Enter NYPD Detectives Sullivan Leary and Stockton Barnes—the quintessential odd partnership (she’s lily white and slightly built, he’s black and beefy)—who discover that there is indeed a pattern beginning to emerge in a string of missing persons cases. But will they be able to piece together the proverbial pieces of the puzzle before the predator gets her prey?
There are several outstanding elements here. First is Staub’s illuminating and utterly believable portrayal of Gaby’s and Ben’s complicated relationship; grief has torn them apart—but, given their shared history, might it also bring them back together? Then, there’s Alex; as her backstory progresses, things get increasingly disturbing (and they were plenty disturbing to begin with). Whatever you think you know about her? Forget it. And finally, there’s the backdrop of online dating, which has become increasingly prevalent in modern times—and increasingly predatory. Though manipulation is not uncommon in relationships, the anonymity of the Internet further breeds secrecy and mistruths. It all equates to a poignant cautionary tale that is unsettlingly relevant.
With The Black Widow, Staub has crafted a superb tale of suspense that will haunt readers long after the last page has been turned. It’s a slow burn, as she draws you in with her rich character portraits and vivid depictions of everyday life, but the tension steadily mounts—a consequence of one’s investment in the story, and the people who populate it. But that’s what Staub has always done: placed ordinary people in extraordinary situations, creating terrifyingly real scenarios that could happen to any one of us at any time. And there’s nothing scarier than that …
With thanks to Lauren Jackson, Publicist at HarperCollins, for providing a review copy of The Black Widow.