Secrets in the Blood

Author: Lisa Unger

I’m going to be honest. I bought this book for its amazing title. Something about it is just sonorous, hinting at dark woods, buried secrets, never-ending nights of fear and betrayal. That’s just a horror hound / mystery lovers insidious dream, all pulled together in a nice binding. The title, however, is the best part of the book, and the theme of bickering couples stranded in the woods soon falls prey to stereotypes, messy storytelling, and unlikable characters. Oh, and you’re not even in the cabin or the Georgia woods that much either.

It starts, oddly, with an awkward Christmas dinner and some mystery presents. Hannah, a devoted stay-at-home wife, her husband Bruce, and her brother Mako (like the shark), and Mako’s wife (Lisa), along with everyone else in the near and extended family, have a special, unmarked present under the tree. A DNA kit for each of them. But no one will claim the honor of giver, and something about this makes the bad evening even worse, even more nightmarish and loaded with innuendo. Plus, Hannah’s not so happy, maybe-having-an-affair hubby is sick of working for his wife’s brother. So, it starts with all the communication pitfalls of bad relationships and shared, secret history. Promising, in the beginning.

The promised cabin comes into view when wheeler-dealer Mako gets his sister and her husband to agree to a couples’ retreat to a bespoke cabin with all the mod-cons, buried in the Georgia woods. Another couple is invited along: Hannah’s best-friend, party-girl Cricket, and Cricket’s new boyfriend. Of course . . . this is awkward too because Cricket used to (maybe still does?) love Mako and kind of hates Mako’s seemingly perfect wife Lisa. So, queue the tension, the subterfuge, the cheating.

It’s a decent setup. Each of the six characters has some sort of complicated secret going on, even spineless, mopey Hannah. That’s a lot of people to keep up with. Six – each with secrets that may or may not interconnect. And then, of course, absolutely none of the six are remotely likable. They are all stereotypes. Quiet, stay at home mom with too much loyalty, party-girl with no morals, jet-setting unethical businessman

Image by Etienne Marais from Pixabay

with mega bucks, lowly worker with an axe to grind, and mystery boyfriend with his own agenda. And don’t forget those DNA tests, because there is an entire side story about them with even more characters to keep up with. Oh – and there’s also the creepy dude who owns the shack and has his own, totally unnecessary side story. So, really, you need to follow nine individual people, while jumping around in time and perspectives. You will not like or care about any of them, and soon their selfish whining will go from catalyst to plain annoying. Have the darn fight already people and enough with the red herrings.

With all this going on, we’re barely at the cabins, and the isolation and seclusion is lacking. Maybe because there are just so darn many people. Just as we settle in (FINALLY) it is over, the showdown occurs with action/thriller rapidity (whereas the rest of the plot just dragged), and then we have a weird, entirely overwrought and out-there explanation. It’s kind of interesting, but a lot of work for readers to keep up with it all, especially since not a single darn character is realistic or truly likable.

In the end Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six was ok. It was entertaining enough and fortunately a fast read (or for me listen, I got the Audible). It’s your average ho-hum mystery that wants to be a thriller. If this is the first mystery/thriller you’ve ever read, you’ll probably like it. If it’s the 100th, well, then prepare to join me in being singularly unimpressed. Just ok. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 because it wasn’t the worst ever.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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