Friday night I finished reading Lisa Unger’s exceptional The Red Hunter. I don’t remember who originally told me to read Lisa Unger’s work, but whoever it was, I really need to say thank you again! She is an exceptionally terrific writer, and as I make my way through her canon, it is startling how fresh, new and completely original every single volume is.
Take The Red Hunter, for example, her April 2017 release. Unger’s books are always about the damage humans do to each other, and how that damage and/or abuse creates ripples that eventually become waves that affect the present, and the necessity of coming to terms with that past in order to solve the problems of the present. The Red Hunter is, at it’s core, the story of a house in rural New Jersey; an old derelict place that is falling to pieces. Claudia, a publishing executive whose personal life is in shambles, decides to renovate the house as a project and blog about it, moving into it with her daughter, Raven. But the house has some terrible secrets.
There’s nothing about me that you would ever notice. I am neither especially thin, nor overweight. My face will not be one you remember. With dark eyes and pale skin, hair the color of straw, cheeks round and just rosy enough that you won’t wonder if I’m ill, I will blend into the sea of other plain faces you saw before and after as you went about your day. nothing about my clothes will capture your notice. No brands that incite jealousy, or anything revealing, no stains, maybe just wrinkled or worn enough that you’ll dismiss me as someone without much money, though not poor enough to be in need. If I’m wearing a uniform, I don’t even exist. I am the checkout girl at the grocery store, or the maid that cleans your hotel room, the girl woh answered the phone, or the young lady at the information desk. No, you would say later, you can’t recall her name or what she looked like, not really. The truth is you don’t see me; your eyes glance over me, never coming to rest. But I see you.
This is Zoey Drake, one of Unger’s point of view characters. Zoey is a young college student at NYU, who studies martial arts and works in a coffee shop; she house and cat sits for a place to stay. Zoey sees herself as the Red Hunter, a vigilante/Batman of sorts, who stops crimes from happening when she comes across them and always dresses nondescriptly; she is trying to right a cosmic wrong. When she was a young girl, her parents were brutally murdered in front of her, and she too was injured and left for dead; she survived that horrible night, but has always been looking, ever since, for answers to the question of who murdered her parents and why.
Claudia herself is surviving a brutal attack; she was assaulted and raped brutally years earlier, which wound up damaging her and her own marriage in ways she couldn’t even comprehend at the time. There has always been a question as to whether her daughter, Raven, is her husband’s or her rapist’s. This is part of the reason why Claudia has brought Raven the old house in the New Jersey countryside; she is trying to rebuild the house and their lives at the same time. Raven has her own curiosity about the question of her paternity.
Their lives are destined to cross because of the house; you see, the house is where Zoey lived with her parents and where they died in front of her. The killers were looking for something in the house that has never been found…and Zoey’s actions have set everything into motion again so that the tangled skeins of their livers are going to cross again as the mystery of how and why what happened when she was a little girl rears its ugly head again, and now all of them are in terrible, deadly danger.
Wow. This book is a thrill-ride from start to finish; fully developed characters that you care about, a fascinating unfolding of a crime with twists and turns that keep the reader balanced firmly on the edge of their seat.
Seriously, if you aren’t reading Lisa Unger, what the hell is wrong with you?