by Martha Crites
Mental Health Evaluator, Grace Vaccaro, is processing her mother’s death and a patient assessment that took a fatal turn when she becomes involved in the case of Laurel James, a psychiatric patient who claims to have murdered her therapist, Marion Warfield. With her work partner, Annie, struggling, and strong doubts concerning Laurel’s confession, it falls to Grace to unravel exactly what happened to Marion and by whose hand, if not Laurel’s…
Danger to Others is a novel that gets under your skin and, consequently, makes for a compulsive read, niggling at you to pick it up again. The book opens with a prologue set in February, the month of the shooting that takes place during a routine house visit and the death of Grace’s mother.
These two incidents set the tone for Grace and Annie, and when chapter one opens in October of the same year, they are still heavily affected by these earlier events which will have important, individual ramifications for both women.
The story unfolds in the first person from Grace’s point of view. It’s immediate and intimate. Grace is measured, and interesting yet occasionally exhibits an air of detachment. As the narrative progresses, the reader begins to wonder who exactly is reliable in this story, and that includes Grace.
Crites’ prose is sharp, searching, and precise. She uses physical details in a considered, quietly powerful way to bring her characters fully alive in all their visceral, troubled states.
There is also something very personal about this book, I felt that Annie and Grace were possibly two sides of the author herself which subtly emphasized the vulnerabilities and heightened emotions that they experience.
The comfort of rituals, both religious and secular, is a motif throughout the novel, and there is also a touch of the supernatural with Bebe McCrae, the Curiosity shop/Casket store owner, which is gently referenced without overstatement.
Further, Crites’ excellent use of the gloomy, shadowy autumnal weather creates a brooding, uneasy atmosphere that permeates the novel and adds to the creeping sense of foreboding and dread. All the cast unsettle the reader with sinister undertones to greater or lesser extents, and each appears to have secrets and flaws that conceivably place them as the perpetrator.
There are also constant little points of conflict, intrigue, and drama in Grace’s personal life and wider, which feed into the mystery surrounding Laurel. The reader is kept guessing as small leads, red herrings, and disappearances are woven through the narrative. I thought the culprit lay in a very different area for some time.
Indeed, there is an awful lot crammed into Danger to Others, tangents involving Grace’s daughter, Nell, and Laurel’s parents, Jimmy and Mo, who have separate issues away from, but ultimately connected to their daughter’s disappearance. Grace also has to deal with Annie’s debilitating anxiety and subsequent disappearance.
Overall, all these plot detours work well and fully complement the main story. Personally, the only slight weakness was Nell. I just did not connect with her but that’s an entirely subjective view. However, I did find that Frank, Grace’s husband, being somewhat of a nebulous, background figure, provided a good contrast to the simmering intensity elsewhere in the novel.
Danger to Others is a tightly constructed, compelling, and deeply atmospheric psychological thriller that explores some disturbing territory, proving the novel difficult to put down. Highly recommended.