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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Highly Anticipated 2021 Release a Disappointing Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her documentary becomes instrumental in freeing a man she feels was wrongfully convicted of murder, filmmaker Tessa Shepherd is thrilled.  She spent countless hours interviewing Oliver Barlow, even coming to think of him as a friend.  Tessa believes—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that he's innocent, a victim of bungled policework.  After fourteen years in prison, Oliver Barlow can finally return to his wife and kids.  And he has Tessa to thank.

Eighteen months later, Tessa is shocked when Oliver posts a video online.  In it, he confesses that he has kidnapped a young woman and plans to kill her.  It's not long before a stunned Tessa is being vilified by the outraged public, all of them wondering how she could have been hoodwinked by a monster like Oliver.  When he mentions her name in a subsequent video, Tessa feels not just trapped but also hunted.  After the will of her recently deceased mother reveals that Tessa and her sister have inherited an old family home they didn't know existed, she decides to hide at Fallbrook.  The crumbling mansion is the site of an old, mysterious tragedy.  Now, it's inhabited only by ghosts.  Its elderly caretakers know what really happened there, but they're not talking.  Tessa is determined to unearth Fallbrook's secrets, no matter what it takes.  What went on in the isolated home?  What are the caretakers hiding?  Tessa has always been adept at reading people, but she was oh so very wrong about Oliver ...

As you can tell from the plot summary, there's a lot going on in The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell.  I went into the book thinking it would be an intriguing family drama with a little mystery thrown in along with a lot of creepy Gothic atmosphere.  So, I was a bit confused when the story seemed to center more on Tessa's investigation of Oliver Barlow.  Frankly, I cared little about anything happening in her present; my interest was in Fallbrook.  Unfortunately, Maxwell just couldn't seem to decide whether she was writing a cat-and-mouse mystery/thriller or a spooky drama/ghost story.  The mash-up didn't work for me.  The Caretakers ended up feeling unfocused, melodramatic, and weirdly paced.  I still whipped through the novel in a day because I wanted to see what would happen next, but overall, the tale felt dissatisfying to me.  This was one of my most highly anticipated novels of 2021, so I'm bummed.

(Readalikes:  The Gothic-y bits remind me of novels by Carol Goodman and Emily Carpenter)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (two F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Caretakers from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. Sorry for your disappointment 😔

  2. Sorry to hear that this one didn't even come close to living up to your expectations. It does sound like a mess...the plot lost me when the woman decided to jump out of the frying pan (her predicament with the nut she helped free) into the fire (living in some isolated place that sounds too remote to be safe). It's one of those stories I'd find myself hollering "Don't!" at the main character over and over again.

  3. It's always sad when highly anticipated reads are disappointments. Sorry you didn't enjoy this one more. :(

  4. How disappointing! It could have been so good.

  5. It sucks when a highly anticipated read falls short of your expectations. It sounds good, though!

  6. It seems like investigative journalism is really in vogue in crime fiction right now. I can't tell you how many podcast based thrillers I've read recently. This one sounds similar. Sorry it didn't really work for you!


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