When I first received a free review copy of TSSC I was intimidated by the cover. It looks like a zombie, I thought. Something dead and frightening. A story to avoid reading late at night right before bed, especially considering that Haunting Sins — another of Whitten’s stories — was such a dark, creepy read.
I can tell you now that while TSSC is creepy (it’s a Whitten hallmark, after all), the tale itself isn’t nightmare-inducing frightening. If anything, it’s very surreal, often thrilling, and pretty damn fascinating too.
I read the blurb and was immediately hooked:
Having lost her parents in a tragic multi-car pile-up, Monica Harper is drawn time and again to fatal automobile accidents without understanding why. Living alone, she works next to the same section of highway where her parents were killed.
But it isn’t survivors’ guilt trapping Monica in her dead-end life.
Fred Schott is a tabloid reporter obsessed with Monica, and with other accident magnets like her. Despite her mistrust of Fred, Monica is eventually convinced to speak with other people with the same problems.
But in arranging this tiny support group, Monica has pushed for a confrontation with an invisible army of living spirits. One by one, her new friends are picked off until Monica is left alone to face an enemy she cannot see or touch.
It took me a little while to become fully absorbed in the story — I didn’t find the prologue (set 5 years earlier) particularly gripping, and the numerous characters introduced in the beginning of Chapter 1 were a little overwhelming.
However, my mixed feelings rapidly changed to interest as the plot began to unfold and I learned more about Monica’s background and interesting paranormal side. Monica is a magnet for car accidents. Does she follow them? Do they follow her? It’s a bit of a mystery; all Monica knows is that right before a crash, her shoulder goes numb with cold and a voice tells her, Get ready. We quickly come to learn that Monica’s been plagued by car accidents for years, and this has pushed her into a dead-end job and a dead-end life. It takes some insistence from tabloid reporter Fred — and another tragic accident — before Monica’s pushed into action.
Pushed is actually a very good word to describe this story. Monica is pushed to take action by the jinn haunting her, by Fred, by the motherly Bernice… She’s not the classic heroine who comes to save the day, guns blazing. If anything, she’s a little defeatist about it all, and yet somehow finds the determination to keep going regardless.
The plot reminded me of Final Destination because it had that sense of the inevitability of death, along with some dramatic freak “accidents”, all of which were pretty thrilling, and several of which made me go “eeww!” But what I really enjoyed was the world-building: the setting felt rich and well-researched, the jinn were fascinating and unlike anything I’ve read before.
A couple nitpicks, however: I found Monica’s complete ignorance of technology a little unbelievable, so was pulled out of the story every time she struggled with using a cell phone. The only other thing that bothered me was while the numerous car accidents were described in great detail, I’d get lost trying to picture them. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion on a muted TV — lots of visual detail, but also a sense of distance, a lack of personal emotion. This could be because Monica is so used to seeing car crashes that she doesn’t react anymore, but it was frustrating as a reader to have a great long paragraph of description and not feel what was happening.
The only other thing that irritated me a bit were the parts with the FBI, who suspect Monica of being responsible for the car crashes and continue to appear here and there to threaten and intimidate her despite having no proof. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist (particularly considering police behaviour during the Toronto G20) but I would’ve thought the FBI would be slightly more intelligent and avoid making libellous claims particularly when there is hard solid evidence of Monica’s innocence in certain matters.
Other than that, I quite enjoyed the rest of the story. The small romantic subplot was pretty sweet, and I have to admit there were several moments where I gasped out loud in surprised shock! My favourite part was when Monica goes to the shopping mall with Carl and roundly tells off an annoying woman — that part made me grin and I ended up re-reading it a couple times. The final chapters were particularly surreal, and I was happy to see Monica show a lot more courage and strength of character by the end.
In sum, a thrilling and fascinating read. The world-building is superb and the plot’s strong enough to keep you reading until 2am in the morning (yep, guilty as charged…).
This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!