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Buy *Poisonous (A Max Revere Novel)* by Allison Brennanonline

Poisonous (A Max Revere Novel)
Allison Brennan
Minotaur Books
368 pages
April 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Brennan’s latest thriller is particularly compelling as she plummets us into the complex landscape of cyberbullying. The electronic trend has become an essential part of a case ricocheting throughout the picaresque hamlet of Corte Madera and prompted New York reporter Maxine Revere of the hit cable TV show Maximum Exposure to investigate. Together with “her right-hand everything,” handsome ex-military man David Kane, the gusty, no-nonsense Maxine descends upon the salubrious Corte Madera, answering a plea from Ivy’s mentally handicapped stepbrother, Tommy Wallace, that he’s innocent of any crime involving the death of Ivy Lake. Tommy’s impassioned letter has affected Max and prompted her to act in a way that surprises her methodical, cool-headed boyfriend, Nick.

An integral aspect of the case is Max’s first meeting with Detective Grace Martin, the officer originally placed in charge of the Lake investigation. After some initial hesitancy, Grace agrees to assist Max. The case is now fourteen months old with no new leads. Ivy was seventeen when she was killed--pushed off a cliff, according to the forensics report. At the time, the police had interviewed dozens of individuals, mostly teenagers, and it seemed everyone had a reason to hate Ivy. Using the keyboard to expose the secrets of her schoolmates--including Heather Brock, who committed suicide shortly after bearing the brunt of Ivy’s attacks--Ivy had a reputation for being a real troublemaker. She’d recently split with her boyfriend, Travis Whitman, who was angry at Ivy‘s endless rounds of bullying. Apart from Tommy, the other prime suspect is Justin Brock, Heather’s brother, and Ivy’s former best friend, Bailey Fairstein. Bailey had a falling out with Ivy that spread to the Internet, including the posting of a number of sexually explicit photos.

All of this information--from the suspects to the clues and the vital digital forensic evidence--propels Max into action, culminating in her meeting vulnerable Tommy, whose slowness makes him less emotional, as well as Tommy’s loyal stepbrother Austin, who can’t believe that his mother, Paula Wallace, has banned Tommy from the home because she’s convinced he killed Ivy. Based on the limited evidence available and going on her gut instincts, Max is positive Ivy was attacked though there’s no evidence at the stop of the cliff to indicate a struggle. Ivy’s dramatic death has spun a web of coverage about cyberbullying. In the end, however, with no killer in custody, no answers for the Lake family, and no justice for Ivy, the news stories stopped as the investigation hit a dead end.

In a frantic storyline and alongside a variety of characters who either become suspects or who try to help, Max careens toward the answers to many questions. Brennan keeps us breathlessly turning these pages, anticipating conclusions in this largely unpredictable drama. Perhaps the pivotal break in the case comes when Max finds herself disrupted by a sleazy local reporter.  Lance Lorenzo, who writes a local blog, theorizes that Ivy committed suicide, most likely out of guilt for complicity in the suicide of Heather.

Little surprise, then, that Max is unable to feel good about progress. Grace Martin is right: they had many suspects and no solid evidence. From the confessions of Austin, who reveals that Ivy was picking on Tommy before asking him to leave their home and who had argued with Ivy about how she’d been treating Tommy, Max is sure whoever killed Ivy knew her, an attack directly and indirectly related to something she posted online. Faced with shocked children, sorrowful spouses, and grieving parents--particularly Paula Wallace, who may have given up all hope that anyone will be interested in her daughter’s murder and is already certain that her stepson killed Ivy--Max must learn to hide her judgmental, critical nature. More self-aware than most people, Max realizes that she doesn’t really care what Ivy did or didn’t do.

As Ivy’s death becomes the center of Max’s world, so does her affinity with Tommy and Austin, these two seemingly inseparable boys who further compel Max’s overwhelming need to find out what happened to Ivy. The only reason that Max is in Corte Madera is because Tommy wrote her an honest letter. As a cunning murderer focuses on his next victim, Max discovers that Ivy was using social media as a violent, selfish weapon. Yes, Ivy’s actions may have had a direct or indirect impact upon a girl’s suicide, yet she didn’t deserve to die in such a horrible and violent fashion.

Like a runaway train, the plot barrels toward a showdown, the obvious secrecy of the killer critical, as is brilliant David, whose sharp instincts prove that perhaps Lance Lorenzo is up to something more sinister. Max works fanatically to catch Ivy’s assailant, empowered by the belief that the truth deserves to be heard and the poisonous, toxic lies that have torn apart this small community deserve finally to be exposed.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2016

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