“What Doesn’t Kill Her” by Carla Norton (Minotaur, 368 pages, $25.99)
A young woman’s determination to be a survivor, not a victim, and to find her sense of self makes a forceful theme in Carla Norton’s compelling series. It’s a long battle, forever to be fought, because Reeve LeClaire was held captive for four years by a psychopath, her escape at age 16 a sheer coincidence.
Norton delivers a tense plot full of believable twists in “What Doesn’t Kill Her,” the second novel in this series. As she did in her series debut, Norton concentrates on a heartfelt story, delving into the strength and resolve of Reeve while exploring a timely subject without resorting to “ripped from the headlines” cliches.
Now 23, Reeve is concentrating on her studies at Berkeley, maintaining a strict routine that is part of her coping mechanism, and enjoying the friendship of her roommates. Reeve’s carefully constructed life crumbles when her abductor, Daryl Wayne Flint, escapes from the Washington State psychiatric hospital where he’s serving his sentence. Reeve refuses to allow him to ruin her life again, but she feels morally responsible to help with the investigation, knowing they are “linked by their shared past.” She knows, “They are two sides of the same crime – captor and captive – that’s a tie that can never be broken. They define each other.” Against her family’s wishes, Reeve flies to Seattle, where she reconnects with Milo Bender, the now retired FBI agent whose compassion helped her get through Daryl’s trial.
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Norton keeps the tension high as she illustrates how easy it is for Daryl to maneuver, hiding in plain sight. Daryl is a monster, and Norton never lets the reader forget that, but her character study is believable and she never stoops to cliches, though “What Doesn’t Kill Her” occasionally is a cautionary tale. The heart of the series is Reeve, as Norton illustrates this young woman’s tenacity and her need to try to stop Daryl from harming others or control her again.
The title, “What Doesn’t Kill Her,” is a variation on philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” And being stronger is part of Reeve’s plans.