The Bottom Line: An intense, breathtaking psychological crime thriller about an abused girl with telepathic powers. Recommended for fans of Rachel Abbot and Gillian Flynn.
Opening during an unusually hot October in Minnesota, Steve Heikens’ Strangely Familiar centers around the relationship between Detective James Julius, and Amy, a troubled 14-year-old who seemingly attacked and mutilated her uncle unprovoked. Why? She feared he was going to rape her.
Initially, Detective Julius doesn’t know what to make of Amy’s claims of clairvoyance, and his doubt only deepens when Amy’s lawyer is butchered in the same manner. And yet when Amy goes missing, he intuitively feels that there’s far more to the story. Is she really the perpetrator, or is she a victim?
He insists on finding her, even after suspension by the Chief of Police. Heikens’ handling of Julius’ subsequent journey into a period of dark awakening – where sexual abusers employ instinctive (or perhaps supernatural) insight to identify victims, and Julius himself begins to experience strange mental phenomena – is highly compelling. It’s hard to imagine that any readers would be left on the fence after the book’s gripping opening chapters, but once Julius begins to doubt his own sanity, making his narration somewhat suspect, even the most hardened readers will be in until the very last sentence is read.
First-time novelist Heikens – a trial lawyer specializing in sexual harassment and child abuse – has taken a huge risk in tackling such weighty subject matter in a first-person narrative. The story bends, but does not break, when the power of empathy becomes a recurring theme, but overall, he succeeds wildly, using restrained, dialogue-driven prose that never travels too far inward, nor does it try to do too much.