Eeny Meeny
M.J. Arlidge
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Buy *Eeny Meeny (A Helen Grace Thriller)* by M.J. Arlidgeonline

Eeny Meeny (A Helen Grace Thriller)
M.J. Arlidge
432 pages
June 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Detective Inspector Helen Grace is described as “damaged,” adding another frisson of mystery to a thriller that already has a bizarre premise: two individuals trapped in a space with no escape and a gun with a single bullet. Their ultimate choice: which will survive? It is more than a cruel jest, deadly serious, a reality that faces the first couple forced to make an unacceptable choice: “All I know is that one of us is going to die.” The survivor must live with the consequences. And after the “winner” enjoys that first flush of freedom, there is no escape from the consequences of that fatal deed. When Amy Anderson, the first survivor to escape captivity from her ordeal, repeats the incredible story and claims responsibility for the death of Sam Fisher, the police at Southampton Central Police Station refuse to believe her. The skepticism continues, Amy’s story too fantastic to be taken seriously until a report of another missing pair and the familiar tale repeated by the survivor of that abduction.

DI Helen Grace and her team realize the import of these incidents but manage to keep the real story behind the cases from the public, increasingly concerned that this is the work of a serial killer. Relying on the investigative skills of Detective Sergeant Mark Fuller and an enthusiastic newcomer to the unit, Detective Sergeant Charlene “Charlie” Woods, Grace not only opens a case that will attract massive media attention once it breaks but also faces a dilemma in understanding why these individuals are chosen: unrelated pairs of victims with no discernible links between them. Grace remains an enigma to the team, a loner and perfectionist demanding more of herself than others, carefully shielding her past and private life from coworkers. Not so for Fuller, who struggles with a recent marital breakup, or Charlie, who is unmarried but wants to have a child. Whatever Helen’s burdens--and they are significant--she carries them on her back without assistance. Given the relentless efforts of an insatiable press, it’s only a matter of time before the story comes out, in spite of the secrecy enforced by the team.

Arlidge mixes up the plot in short chapters that segue between the investigation, each unfolding new abduction, the drama as each agonizing choice is made by victims, the revelations of an unnamed character reliving a nightmarish childhood and the personal details of critical characters as the novel accelerates towards a deadly and shocking finale. The personal problems of detectives Helen, Mark, and Charlie become part of the emerging tableau, adding depth to a police procedural that is more than just the chase to stop a killer. Even those caught in the murderer’s mad web are given context, their suffering ratcheting up the emotional tenor of cold-blooded scenarios that can only end in death.

There’s a hefty dose of reality in the pages of Eeny Meeny, some really ugly scenes of misery and despair, not to mention the dark geography of a twisted mind. More graphically brutal than some thrillers, this mystery is not for timid souls. Even protagonist Helen Grace, despite her determined focus, is prone to make mistakes in judgment, her private demons kept in check but barely when she begins to perceive the monstrous intent behind the abductions. Hoping to put an end to the cycle of death and destruction, Grace finds herself in the center of a diabolical plan she fears is linked to a long-buried past. By the end, everything is left on the table, lives, reputations, and the future all marred by a rampage that leaves no one unscathed. This is the author’s debut--frightening to imagine what he might come up with next.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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