In the new psychological thriller Come with Me by Erin Flanagan (cover pictured), a woman, put simply, is forced to grow up. She hasn’t realized she needed to until circumstances make her come to terms with her responsibilities. Taking charge of your own life, when you’re accustomed to letting others make the important decisions for you, isn’t easy. In her case, not doing it might prove deadly.
Gwen thinks she has what she’s always wanted, a devoted husband, a lovely daughter, a nice life in Boulder, Colorado. The tiny cracks are only at the edges, and at least she’s far from the confines of Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up.
Once, just out of college she did briefly strike out on her own with a four-month internship at a Dayton media company. While the other two interns paired up as leader and acolyte, Gwen stayed outside their circle, preoccupied with her upcoming wedding.
Ten years later, but early in the story, her husband Todd has a fatal heart attack, leaving Gwen bereft. His death isn’t the only blow. Solely in charge of their finances, Todd has sunk all the couple’s money into his start-up business and run up huge debts. Gwen now has no husband, no money, no house, and no job experience. She’s forced to move back to Dayton into the home of her increasingly debilitated, prickly mother.
One lucky thing, though. Online research reveals her fellow intern from a decade earlier, Nicola, the leader in their little trio, is still at the company, and, better yet, is still a leader. She’s moved up smartly in the organization. When Gwen calls her to explain her plight, Nicola starts throwing out lifelines.
If you have ever had a manipulative friend, if you’ve learned the hard way that favors often come with strings attached, and if you recognize the signs someone is seeking power and control, you will wish fervently that Gwen were more aware. But even she has limits and a mother’s instincts for danger. Watching her complete trust in Nicola crumble ever so gradually is one of the chief pleasures of this story. And, while we might wish it would happen sooner, that’s not who Gwen is.
The story is focused pretty tightly on a small cast of women: Gwen, her daughter, her mother, and, of course Nicola. In a few interspersed chapters, Nicola’s own difficult upbringing. By the time of the internship, Nicola has developed five rules for living and Gwen knows them well: Don’t let anyone make you feel small; know your friends (that’s a biggie for Gwen); trust your instincts (ditto); never look back; and truth, not facts.
Author Erin Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio, and writes about life in the town with great authenticity. She is also a professor of English at Wright State University in Dayton and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her debut novel, Deer Season, which I thought was wonderful—complex, well imagined, indelible characters.
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