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‘You’ pushes the reader closer to the cliff

It was timed for today to bring to your attention another charming Samuel Craddock mystery by the easygoing and marvelous storyteller Terry Shames.

She is uncomplicated and a pleasure to read. Her protagonist, retired police chief Sam Craddock, who’s pressed back into duty by a bankrupt Jarrett Creek, Texas, is a compelling and sagacious lawman and neighbor, and a delightful man to spend some time reading about.

Murder Ink has featured Shames’s previous four books, and last week’s release of The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is as satisfying as any book comes – best read with a cup of tea and a cat curled up in your lap. You’ll love it.

Notwithstanding, out of the blue and from an imprint I’d never heard of came You by Caroline Kepnes, and my time and my plans came to a precipitous halt.

I have read only a few books as intense as You, and I promise that whoever reads this book will be in awe of Kepnes and will never forget You, her first of what Atria Books, critics and readers all hope will be followed by more – a hard act for Kepnes to follow, no question.

You is a story of obsession. Now, get a grip before the hair on your neck bristles. We all have a streak of obsessive behavior in one form and degree or another, and You simply takes it closer to the cliff, as mild-mannered bookstore manager Joe Goldberg meets and is instantly smitten by and immediately begins to shadow the lovely co-ed Guinevere Beck.

And we do all have a jones for something or someone, sufficiently tamped down usually, so give the story a break on this score too. And nearly none of us has escaped the gut wringing of being unrecognized or turned down by a love interest who has occupied most of our wakeful moments. So we can relate to Joe when he follows Beck one day so as to bump into her at a lunch joint or coming out of class or in the grocery store aisles. He’s a red-blooded all-American man driven by hormonal desire. You’ve got to cheer him on, wish him success – marriage, babies, dinner on Sundays at the in-laws – until, that is, he begins to collect a few things from Beck’s apartment, steals her cellphone she thinks she left in a cab and follows her e-mails and texts on her new phone, kills one of her friends who’s needy and selfishly using “his time,” and we won’t count offing the old, unfaithful boyfriend who had it coming.

Joe’s a stalker. Maybe Joe’s a sociopath, doesn’t know right from wrong, but he’s nuts over Beck and will and does do everything to requite her love. And he wins. She loves him back, albeit imperfectly, capriciously, selfishly, cynically, infuriatingly – unfortunately.

Kepnes manages a tension in the telling of Joe Goldberg’s obsession with Beck that it seems she frightened herself so that her readers wouldn’t have to be creeped out by her characters’ unhealthy machinations. It’s a brilliant almost palpable absorption of guilt that lends a normalcy to abnormal characters and a Hitchcockian plot. We know Beck and Joe well – both incomplete, needy souls who are good for each other but don’t know how to be until they can’t be.

jeff@jeffmannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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