Secrets and lies. In her latest mystery, Black Out, Unger hits a home run, an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that consists of smoke and mirrors, each new twist building to a shocking denouement that this reader never sees coming.
Unger had me from the first page, when wife and mother Annie Powers reveals that she has built her current persona in a trendy upper-class beachfront home on Florida’s Gulf Coast on a clever network of lies, changing her identity, giving her another chance at happiness.
The emotionally traumatized daughter of abandoning parents, Annie, as Ophelia, is an adolescent utterly without resources, eking out a meager existence with her divorced mother, who leaves New York City for Florida to be near her new fiancé, a convicted rapist/murderer. After the wedding behind bars, her mother devotes time and energy to getting a new trial for Frank Geary. When Geary’s troubled son, Marlowe, shows up at their trailer, the girl’s mother readily accepts him as a member of the family. The vulnerable Annie is unable to resist the magnetism of this attractive rebel.
Yearning to belong, to be loved, Annie is easy prey. By the time Frank achieves his new trial, Annie’s future is tangled with Marlowe’s fortunes, a complicated relationship that draws this victim even deeper into a way of life that nearly destroys her. Now, five years later, married to Gray Powers, Annie devotes herself to the life at hand, thankful for every day with her daughter, Victory, a bright and happy child.
Suddenly a voice from the past whispers a name - “Ophelia” - and Annie is thrust into a nightmare that threatens to destroy everything she values. A former Navy SEAL, Gray has business connections through his father, able to offer his wife the advantages of a new identity and all that entails. But even Gray cannot protect Annie from the soul mate who may have come back to claim her, who haunts her dreams and follows in the shadows as she looks back to see there is no one there.
Trapped between a past that she hoped never to have to revisit and an uncertain future without her beloved daughter and husband, Annie is forced to make terrible choices. As circumstances shift mysteriously, Annie fears she is losing her mind, that her imagination is manufacturing events, that she can’t even trust herself.
Even as Gray helplessly watches his wife once more in thrall to the past, Annie strikes out to save herself by facing her demons one last time. With a good deal of sleight of hand, Unger ratchets up Annie’s paranoia, a bizarre cast of characters adding to the menace. Shifting between past and present from chapter to chapter, Unger builds a fragile house of cards, Annie scrambling to keep it all from crashing down.
The usually benign state of Florida, a tourist haven, is here depicted in all its wildness; evil lurks in the dark crevasses the sun never touches. It is through this jungle that Annie travels in search of redemption. What she finds stuns a young woman who has taken every punch life offers and still survives.