‘Friend of the Family’ has a complex plot

By: 
Jan Jones
Columnist

When I selected “A Friend of the Family” by Stuart Field I had no idea how tangled the plot could be. I can’t really do justice to all the nuances of the parallel plot lines, so I will offer a thumbnail sketch.

The Freeman family, Jake, Abby and their daughters Danni and Melanie are fairly typical. Danni is outgoing and friendly, while Melanie keeps to herself. The day after receiving elaborate costume masks as birthday gifts, Melanie begins having nightmares and behaving strangely.

After she mutters the words, “They are going to die and I’m going to take satisfaction in it,” Melanie is taken to Dr. Hicks for therapy. Soon Hicks suggests that Melanie go into care in his clinic, Larksford House.

Years go by with Melanie becoming more and more withdrawn. Her world has shrunk to a small, locked room, her books, and a view of the fountain and pond.

Along the way, she had been befriended by a woman named Karen. Karen knew how to pick locks and more about the huge building without detection. Karen visited Melanie and taught her much about real life and how to survive in the institution. It was Karen who suggested Melanie wear her mask at all times. It would hide her true emotions and give her a small sense of control in her life.

Once Dr. Hicks passed away, his son took over and things at Larksford took on a sinister air. Then Toby Washington arrived. Toby is a young American nurse eager to learn more about how to best care for long-term mental patients.

To everyone’s great surprise, Toby connects with Melanie, causing her to speak and interact with him. Young Dr. Hicks is thrilled. Maybe Toby could be the key to making his research successful.

Toby is not surprised to learn that the entire clinic is equipped with cameras and monitored day and night. None of them realize that Melanie has been seeing flashes of her former life or that she is carefully plotting her escape and revenge.

The parallel story focuses on solving several horrific murders. In each case the husband and any males in the house is killed quickly, but each mother and daughter are tortured, brutally raped and slowly killed. All the female victims have short, blond hair, blue eyes and an athletic build. The killer is careful leaving no trace evidence to work with.

Five years ago, DCI Richard Platt’s wife and daughter had been attacked but left alive. The traumatized women were taken to a psychiatric hospital for care, but within a day, Platt’s daughter had hanged herself and his wife was nearly catatonic. Platt is still angry that he’d been sent to a far-off crime scene and not there when the attack happened. The shattered man is still determined to catch the person dubbed “the family killer.”

He and his partner, DC Dave Elford, continue to work the older cases with the help of a PC Sommers. She was in London when the killer attacked her family. She, too, is determined to find the cruel killer.

With their three different points of view, they piece together tiny clues to create a picture of how the killer chose his or her victims and carried out the crimes.

Meanwhile, Toby is doing his own investigation into Larksford and Dr. Hicks, and what he finds is terrifying. Just as the police and Toby seem to be closing in on a suspect, Melanie takes the first steps of her revenge.

I turned the page fully expecting to find the answers but instead found a blurb encouraging me to read book two, “Not a Friend of the Family.” I hate cliffhangers! Since I invested so much time in this book, I am compelled to find the second and get to the bottom of it all.

AT A GLANCE

Book: A Friend of the Family, Book 1

Author: Stuart Field

Publisher: Next Chapter

Year published: 2022

Number of pages: 334