cover image Mouth to Mouth

Mouth to Mouth

Michael Kimball. William Morrow & Company, $24 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97820-5

Many good suspense novels feature an imperiled heroine vaguely unaware of what's obvious to the reader, in this case, that the new man in her life is bad news. But Ellen Chambers, the protagonist of Kimball's second thriller (after Undone), remains in the dark about dangerous Neal Chambers for far too long; her excessive naivete is the one weak point in this otherwise solid psychological thriller. The mysterious young man is the nephew of Ellen's husband, Scott, whom they haven't seen for 12 years, since the day a family tragedy occurred. Neal appears suddenly at the wedding of Ellen's pregnant teenage daughter, Moreen, and stays on to help out Ellen and Scott rebuild the barn on their sheep farm in Destin, Maine. Alarm bells ring along with wedding bells in the opening chapter, when Ellen is worried sick about her rude, crude and violent new son-in-law. When Neal hints that he's going to somehow protect Ellen's family, the distressed mother trusts her nephew-by-marriage and overlooks how bizarre Neal really is. But Ellen should know better, as she's kept the terrible secret of the family's bloody, adulterous past for more than a decade. Jonathan, Neal's father and Scott's brother, hung himself when Ellen relayed her discovery that his wife was having an affair with Scott. The disturbed Neal has come back into the lives of his relatives with a sinister agenda, and Ellen's increasingly foolhardy intimacy with Neal provides an aggravating pothole in an otherwise clear descent into terror. Thankfully, once Ellen catches on, the tone of the book sharpens dramatically. Intelligently crafted plot twists come at top speed, revealing interlocking family secrets, deaths to be avenged, hidden patterns to be discovered. The denouement is one gripping cliffhanger after another, a chilling melange of vengeance and obsession that will keep readers glued to the page. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (Feb.)