Monday, July 02, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin

Despite its name, Ponder, Texas, pop. 1,101, isn’t a very good place to think. Four months out of the year, it’s too damn hot to think.

It is a good place to get lost. That’s what my mother did thirty-two years ago. The fact that she successfully hid this from almost everyone who loved her makes her a pretty good liar. I’m not sure what it says about me. [Opening Paragraphs]


Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin
Ballantine Books, 2012
Crime Fiction, 352 pgs

From the author's website:
What if your whole life was a lie?
That's the question torturing child psychologist Tommie McCloud after she opens a stranger's letter only days after burying her father. The woman claims that Tommie is her child, kidnapped thirty-two years ago. Suddenly, a deeply rooted Texas girl finds herself linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. With everything she has ever believed in question and a stalker determined to stop her, Tommie must discover the truth about her family's secrets and the girl who vanished.
The first half of 2012 has turned out to be a fantastic year for crime fiction, at least at my end.  I have had the privilege of reading several mysteries that have stood out and made me take notice, most from established authors I am beating myself up over for not getting to sooner.  Then there is Playing Dead, Julia Heaberlin's first novel, although you wouldn't know it. She has a masterful grip on storytelling as well as character development.  Julia Heaberlin weaves her characters and their stories together seamlessly. The characters are the story, really.

Heaberlin's writing drew me in immediately and it was difficult to tear myself away.  In fact, I, who am lucky to get one book finished in a week, read this book in a day.  I was that hooked (and lucky to find the time!).  Even when away from the book, I found myself thinking about it, wanting to go back, and I hated to see the book end.  My heart raced with just about every page.  Cliche, I know, but true.

Tommie's world is turned upside down when she first receives the letter suggesting her life as she knows it is based on a lie.  Tommie is one tough lady with a very hard outer shell.  As the story unfolds, the reader begins to see a more vulnerable Tommie, one who is scarred and touched by her past.  She never ceases to be independent, headstrong and resourceful, but she also doesn't fit the usual stereotypical tough sassy heroine in a suspense novel.  Tommie is layered.  She felt real.

The first person narrative is perfect for Playing Dead.  It gives the reader the opportunity to process the information coming in just as the protagonist does--feel what she is feeling and come to the same revelations she does.  And Heaberlin catches just the right tone and pacing to make it all the more meaningful in Tommie's case.  My heart beat faster right alongside Tommie's.  I felt her fear.  I felt her doubts.  I felt her grief and frustration.  I felt her determination.  I felt her love and devotion to her family.  The author is also able to give the reader a good feel for many of the other characters in the novel and what they are experiencing, something that isn't always easy to do from a single first person perspective.  Jack Smith comes to mind as an example.  He is such an interesting character on many levels, one whose story touched me to the core.  Unfortunately, to say too much more about him would take us into the realm of spoilers.

There were other characters who won my affection: the smart and thoughtful Maddie, Tommie's niece and world; Sadie, Tommie's sister and voice of reason; and Hudson.  He's a man who has a lot of connections, a reputation for getting things done, and is sexy as all get out.  Okay, so he may be the one character in the book who is too good to be true, but I sure do like him. 

Tommie and Sadie's mother, Ingrid, was another character that I really cared about.  Her particular story was more about the past, given that she has dementia and is able to remember--or at least share--so little.  As I read the novel, it was quite apparent Ingrid suffered from depression.  I so wish I could have known her better . . . I know Tommie felt the same way.

Heaberlin takes the reader down unexpected paths as her novel unfolds, and there's a bit of everything from romance to action to self reflection and to the mystery itself.  The story is layered and complex.  I found the novel not only entertaining, but thought provoking too.  This is one of those novels that is more than just a mystery and really is more of a crossover, delving into issues such as loss, grief, post traumatic stress, familial relationships and the toll secrets can have on someone.  It'd make for a great discussion, I think!

I am going to go so far as to say this is one of my favorite book of the year so far.  I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.


To learn more about the Julia Heaberlin and her book, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say on the TLC Book Tours route!


Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. E-copy of Playing Dead provided by the publisher.





© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

33 comments:

  1. I love the sound of this one and also reading how much you enjoyed it. I enjoy reading books like this so on my list it goes!!

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    1. Staci - I had a feeling I would like it from the description, but I didn't expect to like it quite so much. I am glad I took a chance on it. I hope you do get to read it, Staci!

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  2. This sounds great!! Yet another one for the TBR list ;)

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    1. Kim - As if your TBR list isn't long enough already! Haha! I hope you do get a chance to read it.

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  3. This sounds fantastic! Thanks for introducing this book(:

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    1. Eustacia - It really is good. I hope you will read it!

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  4. I'm going to download it right now. I've been looking for a good book. Thanks!

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    1. Linda - Oo! Now the pressure is on! I hope you like it, Linda.

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  5. I'm hoping to get to this one very, very soon. All the aspects you spoke of are very appealing to me. Glad it worked so well for you, Wendy!

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    1. Kay - Let me know what you think of it when you do get to it. The family dynamics particularly interested me in this book and I really like the way the author handled not only the story but also the direction she went with it.

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  6. Wow, that book sounds very addictive, but in a good way!

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    1. Kathy - Addictive is a good word for it. :-) I love it when a book grabs hold of me and I can't let go.

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  7. Oh wow! This book does sound incredible, and you make an extremely powerful case for going out and getting it as soon as I can! I am trying to limit my book buying, but really want to read this one now. I have also really come to love psychological thrillers, and think that this is a must read for me after having read your thoughts. Superb review today. It really captured me!

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    1. Heather - Thank you. I do hope you get a chance to read it. It is one of those novels that is more than what it seems based on the description. I am looking forward to seeing what the author brings us next.

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  8. This is definitely going on the to-read list! I've been enjoying mysteries and thrillers this year - more so than usual.

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    1. Carrie - I seem to be reading more of them this year than I usually do. If you do read this one, let me know what you think!

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  9. This book sounds amazing! I'm going to add it to my wishlist.

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    1. Yvonne - Definitely do! I hope you like it if you do read it. :-)

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  10. Wow, this sounds fantastic - great review!

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    1. Mystica - It helps when a book hits the right spot. :-)

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  12. The fact that you made time to read this in one day tells me all I need to know. I know how busy you are!

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    1. Ti - I'm still wondering how I managed it. LOL

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  13. I love the sound of this one and can't wait to read it!

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  14. Thanks a lot Wendy! Now I have yet another book to add to my wish list!

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    1. Stacy - Haha! Do you think we'll ever be able to get to all the books on our wish lists? I'm wondering . . .

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    1. Kelly - It really was! I am glad I took a chance on it.

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  16. You've convinced me! It's now on my TBR list. Thanks!

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