The Herd
Andrea Bartz
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Buy *The Herd* by Andrea Bartz online

The Herd
Andrea Bartz
Ballantine Books
336 pages
March 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Kate Bradley has just arrived back in New York City when she secures an appointment for a position with Eleanor, manager and CEO of The Herd, a network of women with shared feminine interests. Her sister, Hana, is glad to have Kate back. Kate had a difficult time in the Midwest as a "string writer." Now she has a new start, working with Hana and freelance graphic designer Mikki, who is Eleanor's most trusted confidante and part of her tiny inner circle.

For the women of The Herd, ambition is a gift, particularly for "good at everything" Eleanor, who markets The Herd as a "community," a sacred place designed to make its members' lives more balanced, beautiful and connected. People are kind of obsessed with her, particularly the "angry men" crowd. Eleanor suspects one man in particular of spray painting profanities on the walls of her offices. In a series of coordinated attacks, Eleanor has also found four photos of the defacement--the same two words sprayed in similar bubble letters.

There are rumbles that The Herd is too elitist, snob vibes and too many "damn think pieces" coming out about how the company is a flash point for debates over feminism and power. After Eleanor goes missing, her husband, Daniel, can shed little light on what has happened to her. He tells Kate and Hana that she's predicable, that "she leaves her dishes from breakfast in the sink and then loads them into the dishwasher after work." He tells the two detectives assigned to look for her about an event she didn't show up for and that she was in an "open relationship." With Eleanor and Daniel not monogamous, the investigators think that Eleanor likely absconded voluntarily. With the cops unimpressed, unenthused unmotivated, Kate, Hana and Mikki turn to Eleanor's childhood friends Ted and Cameron.

A plume of anxiety, "neon and strong" rises through Kate. Eleanor has a reputation for getting everything she wants, without even trying. There are also the blackmail letters, the first of which Eleanor received a year ago. Mikki suggested coming clean about the origin if the letters, but Eleanor shut that down. Something inside Kate shifts and turns, a living thing once dormant stirring now and filled with rage. Hana may be showing remorse, yet her desire to reconnect with her sister becomes something that is far more than pretense.

The search for a killer takes place against New York's cosmopolitan setting where the bitter wind and puffs of feathery snow roll like tumbleweeds, as cold and chilly as Kate's aching heart. Against New York's wintry landscapes, Bartz bathes her thriller in a silvery narrative mist as the search for Eleanor ramps up. What if Cameron did hate Eleanor? What of Ted, Eleanor's go-to handyman/IT guy? Ted was seen snooping around The Herd maybe a few times a month. Dissecting how the lies and misconceptions of the past resonate in our present and tie us to the concept of natural justice, Bartz gets right to the heart of the unspoken competition between Eleanor, Hana and Mikki, who towards the end of the novel rigorously holds court. Kate is not sure what draws her to Mikki, but her daring words presage the secret that Kate has held tight for so long.

I had to constantly second-guess myself as Bartz led me away from the murder at hand, ever deeper into Kate, Hana and Eleanor's psyches, tumbling us into their pasts, exposing their pain and sin. As Kate fights to find a clue to a mystery she doesn't know she's in, Mikki's truth, which has plagued her for much of her life, lies waiting to be exposed.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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