“This Is Not Over” by Holly Brown; Morrow (400 pages, $15.99)
An online feud between two strangers erupts into a gripping story about manipulation, ego and control in Holly Brown’s third psychological thriller. “This Is Not Over” continues Brown’s affinity for crime fiction that hinges on mind games rather than car chases or gun battles.
While overt violence never flares up, fears about what might happen and how one can exact vengeance give “This Is Not Over” a terrifying edge. It’s like getting into one of those futile Facebook arguments – the only winners are those who don’t get involved.
At 30, Dawn Thiebold appears to be in a good place – her husband, Rob, seems to adore her and has encouraged her to complete her college degree while he supports them. Sure, they don’t have a lot of money and live in a small apartment in Oakland, Calif. But they regularly take breaks from their life by staying at overpriced rental homes in tony neighborhoods. Dawn wants “five-star accommodations, but in a house, rather than a hotel so I can marinate in that lifestyle. … It’s the adult version of playing dress-up.”
But their recent stay in a Santa Monica house owned by Miranda Feldt, the wife of a wealthy Beverly Hills doctor, doesn’t go well. Instead of her deposit, Dawn receives an e-mail from Miranda claiming that she will forfeit $200 because sheets were stained. Dawn becomes livid and puts up a three-star review; Miranda becomes even angrier, fearing that one so-so review will hurt her business and the secret she hides from her husband. Soon both women become “slaves to outrage,” with terse e-mails becoming threats and each finding new ways to get back at the other and ruin each other’s lives.
Reasonable people would walk away from such a fight, especially with someone they have never met. But each woman allows her identity to be wrapped up in the situation. Brown skillfully turns “This Is Not Over” into an examination of the women’s fragile lives, imperfect marriages, controlling attitudes and the demand to keep up appearances at any cost.
“This Is Not Over” proves to be a domestic thriller at its best.