In Hunting Annabelle, , a debut novel of suspense, Wendy Heard introduces readers to a narrator with a unique perspective. Sean Suh is a Korean American who has recently moved to Texas from San Francisco with his mother, a noted neurosurgeon. The story takes place in 1986 and Heard immerses the reader into that time period by peppering the narrative with many references and cultural allusions. She captures the alienation of her main character as a person of color in Texas, but Sean is a true outsider for other reasons as well. He is an artist who sees people’s auras, dresses in “alternative” punk/goth clothes, and happens to be a diagnosed violent schizophrenic recently released from inpatient care. Sean spends his days at a nearby amusement park, drawing people in the crowds that engulf, but do not incorporate, him. One fateful day, Sean spots a girl whose aura strikes him as particularly unusual and he is captivated enough to follow her into the park’s wax museum. Unlike his other subjects, Annabelle confronts Sean and their interaction leads to an immediate attraction and plans for meeting again. Sean’s mother is overbearing and controlling, and her overprotectiveness means that Sean needs to keep his new friendship hidden. When Annabelle is kidnapped right before his eyes, Sean knows that he will not be believed by anyone because of his past instability and police record. He becomes obsessed with finding Annabelle on his own-both because he is convinced that he loves her and to prove his innocence. Sean must battle his own disturbing impulses and disorienting medication effects while also facing suspicion and discrimination. Diving into Annabelle’s past, he discovers an abundance of potential suspects and some revealing information about this girl that he barely knows. Wendy Heard deserves credit for creating a fast-paced and gripping thriller with diverse characters and some unpredictable plot devices. Some readers might object to her somewhat simplistic portrayal of mental illness, depending on their own experiences and knowledge. Younger readers might also feel a bit alienated by all the 1980s trivia, but these tidbits would be enjoyable for anyone familiar with them. The relationship between Sean and his mother was very interesting, and the story might have benefitted from including more details about their shared history. Hunting Annabelle is a solid page turner with good pacing and entertainment value, worth a look for fans of thrillers with an innovative approach.
Thanks to Edelweiss and Harlequin for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.