The Killer in Me
by Margot Harrison
Nina Barrows is sharing the mind of a killer. At first we have no clue why or how this came about, how the narrator has the knowledge she does about the whereabouts and doings and thought processes that make her cringe. The serial killer is about to take a couple in Schenectady, NY. He even thinks about other targets on the way.
Why would a seventeen year old girl be willing to take on a psychopathic killer on her own? Why put herself in danger? She knows he won’t hesitate to kill her and hide her body. He’s done it before. But spending every night inside his head, undergoing what amounts to torture by being forced to witness grisly crime after crime, it stands to reason she would give anything to put an end to it.
Unlike Awake at Midnight’s usual supernatural fare, this psychological thriller runs along the lines of Hitchcock’s best. There is no fantasy magic here, only an odd twist of psychology that provides the basis of an engaging cat-and-mouse game.
Nina relies on friend Warren Witter, a local boy her age that she has been friends with forever, as a confidant. When she witnesses the entire murderous ordeal in a dream (though, luckily we are spared most of the horror,) Nina finds it necessary to include Warren in her secret only because he might help her reach the Gustaffsons in Schenectady before it’s too late.
But they miss. It happened in real time, and the family is gone. This hardens Nina’s resolve to face the killer in person, so the two weave a plan of parental deception that will get them permission to take a road trip together and allow Nina the chance to face the killer she is psychically bound to.
Along the way we follow the horror. Nina watches a close call as a woman named Joellynn almost gets taken for a final ride in a Hitchcockian moment of suspense just before the victim escapes.
This time, I vowed, would be different. I would not be a passive witness. The Thief was my enemy, and I needed intel, evidence, ammunition to put him away. I could only track him by watching at night, but letting him in. I’d get inside him and hunt my prey like he was hunting his.
Warren lands a film studies internship for his music-video making career (an attempted escape from the small town they seem trapped in, despite the fact that his brothers are delinquents, leaving only him to care for his mother). Meanwhile Nina’s cover is a trip to visit her birth Mom, who she has never met. Because they are going together, rather than embarking on the long-distance journey to the West alone, both parents are OK with it. (Though I wouldn’t be, I can tell you.)
Dylan Shadwell is the killer’s name. At the midpoint of the book we are given the shocking twist, and learn why, exactly, Nina has been up inside this particular man’s mind. And although it has never seemed a possibility before –because there has certainly been no overt evidence of it– Nina begins to question whether the murderer… has been inside her head.
Maybe there is no mineshaft in that ridge, never was. Only the imagined possibility. Maybe that’s what I’ve been dreaming– possibilities stitched together from shreds of memory, distant smells and sounds and names.
After meeting the murderer face to face and spying on him, some of the visions Nina has had on the journey prove to be false. For instance: the killer’s hideout, a secret mine entrance, doesn’t exist; and the killer’s garden shed is missing the signature map of his work. Nina wonders if she is crazy. Maybe Dylan isn’t a serial killer. At this point I started to envision the twist ending. Were her visions really coming from her supposedly jailed, murderous father? Was it really her, twisted in the insanity of multiple personalities? But wonderfully, the ending delivers without any type of oddball surrealism.
There is a high tension, life or death face-off between Nina and her psychic partner. There are twists and deadly stakes as the desert wind blows through an isolated miner’s shack out in the lonely sands.
The book is professionally written film noir style suspense thriller. The killer could appear at any moment, and he’s deadly. If you like classic movies like The Big Clock or The Wrong Man, this one’s for you. I’m glad to see the genre successfully translated into the young adult format. But it wasn’t necessarily envisioned that way. If you’re one for a full-color, deadly chase where a woman faces the challenge of tracking down a killer, start here!