Bookworm: ‘The Heights’ – Everything a thriller-lover wants

‘Scarlet in Blue’ will color you sunny yellow

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“The Heights”

  • By Louise Candlish
  • c. 2021, Atria
  • $17, 416 pages

There are things that you’ll always remember. Your first kiss. The first car you bought yourself. A mentor who helped you, a recipe you can make without thinking, that one best dog, you’ll never forget any of those things. A toy you loved as a child. The best day of your life. Or, as in the new novel, “The Heights” by Louise Candlish, the worst one.

“The Heights” by Louise Candlish.

Michaela Ross thought she knew how the manuscript would end, the manuscript that Felix Penney had given her to help her understand the work he was doing at the Correctional Institute. She met the scripts’ author, then she started reading, thinking she knew the story ...

Ellen Saint wasn’t happy that her son, Lucas, was chosen to be the school buddy for the new boy at his private academy. Kids like that Kieran Watts are trouble but then again, who better than Lucas, Ellen’s A-level-working Lucas, to show the boy around, right?

But did it have to extend welcoming the boy into her home? Ellen was uneasy around Kieran; even her mother said that the boy was “cold,” and the hateful looks he gave Ellen when Lucas wasn’t looking, well, they were terrifying.

And then one thing led to another and another and soon, Lucas was always hanging around with Kieran, staying out late, neglecting his studies, getting into mischief, doing drugs. Ellen and Lucas’ father, Vic, tried to discourage their son from the friendship; Ellen’s husband, Justin, tried, too, but nothing worked.

“The Heights” author Louise Candlish.

She actively hated Kieran and the hate turned seething when he was involved in a car accident that killed Lucas. She was sure that Kieran was a monster, and monsters – especially evil ones – shouldn’t be allowed to walk free. So then why did Ellen spot Kieran in a building near a new client’s apartment years after he’d been put in prison, two years after she’d paid Vic £15,000 to have someone kill him? Yet there he was, Kieran walking around, working, successful, wealthy. Taunting her. Teasing.

Oooooh, you’re going to like how “The Heights” unfolds. You’re going to like that it has more twists than a four-inch screw, and that it’ll make you wonder again and again if you’ve really got the right bad guy pegged here while you’re reading.

You’ll love how author Louise Candlish grabs you by both sides of your head and makes you dive with Ellen into the kind of madness that ruins families – even as you struggle because Ellen is so darn likeable, with her unique nail-biting phobia and her willingness to stretch her imagination like a second-grader stretches gum. This novel reads sometimes like a prison tell-all, sometimes like a newspaper interview, and sometimes like the kind of book you want to look away from but you can’t, and you’ll like that, too.

You’ll be reluctant to leave “The Heights” alone, so you can consider it a relatively fast read. It’s everything a thriller-lover wants, everything a murder-mystery fan craves, exactly what an intrigue reader enjoys, in a title you’ll likely remember.

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“Scarlet in Blue”

  • By Jennifer Murphy
  • c. 2022, Dutton
  • $27, 373 pages

The portrait is beautiful, but drab. Once vivid and vibrant, the colors have become fugitive pigments – gone, lost, having left the canvas through exposure over decades. Now, you can only imagine the jeweled tones of the subject’s gown, the richness of her hair, the glint in her eye, but you can’t see them. As in the new novel “Scarlet in Blue” by Jennifer Murphy, it feels as though something important is missing forever.

“Scarlet in Blue” by Jennifer Murphy.

When her mother had said it was time to go, fifteen-year-old Blue didn’t bother to argue. This race was the same as the last escape was the same as the run before, but she didn’t expect to land in snow country. It was cold in South Haven, Michigan.

Every time, every move, she hoped things would be different. Maybe her mother would settle down and let Blue make friends, fall in love, have a dog like a normal teenager. Maybe her mother wouldn’t see “HIM,” an invisible man who was part of her mother’s illness. Maybe they could live in the real world for once.

Scarlet never walked, she twirled when she moved, hands above her head. People might have thought she was eccentric – she painted in the dark and destroyed her own canvases, and her palette came from natural sources – but they bought her works anyway, didn’t they? After all, she was a world-renowned painter with a gallery and shows in New York City, and she had famous friends! Moving around wasn’t her first choice, either, but she had to protect Blue from him.

“Scarlet in Blue” author Jennifer Murphy.

This trip to South Haven, and the revenge she’d find ... that would fix all the problems.

When his wife Lily died, Dr. Henry Williams knew he’d never love anyone the same way again, and so his attraction to his new patient, Scarlet, made no sense. Yes, she was intriguing and mysterious but she was also in need of psych analyzation. He was obsessed with her, but he couldn’t figure out why. Why did she choose him to be her doctor?

Layer by layer: That’s how the masters created their paintings. It’s how author Jennifer Murphy presents her “Scarlet in Blue.”

The first layer will put you on edge: Murphy starts her tale with tension and the admission that there’s been a murder, but decades ago and there’s no mystery in that. Uniquely, readers aren’t particularly urged to solve anything. Instead, we’re pulled sideways, tucked into Blue’s life and her growing fears and frustrations, while we watch Scarlet dive out-of-control. And here comes another layer: her relationship with Henry has a distinctive feel of an old-time movie with clever distractions to make you sometimes forget that murder.

No worries: Murphy blends it in at just the right times, making it bleed into the rest of the story until the picture comes clear.

Set in the early 1960s, this is a noir movie lover’s book. It’s for fans who don’t quite want a mystery to read. Just put “Scarlet in Blue” in your lap and color yourself sunny yellow.

More:Bookworm: ‘Funny Farm’ will make any reader purr

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.