Jar of Hearts
by Jennifer Hillier
Georgina Shaw was sixteen years old when her best friend disappeared.
Her name was Angela Wong and she was the prettiest and most popular girl in school. Captain of the cheerleaders. Ruler of the Cool Kid’s table in the cafeteria. Resident trend-setter and expert at finding the best party in town. She was a queen bee in a sea of common workers and drones. A girl to be admired, and she was . . . especially by Georgina.
One day Angela was there – her light shining the brightest in a sea of lesser stars – and the next, she was gone. The teenage girl had vanished without a trace. It was a disappearance that rocked the community and brought the girl’s parents to their knees in grief, shame, and bewilderment. Grief, in that Angela was their only child and they’d never have opportunity to raise another. Shame, in that they hadn’t made time to be a bigger part of the girl’s life. Bewilderment, in that a ransom note never came and no whisper of her whereabouts was ever sent down the line. The girl was simply gone – never to be seen or heard from again.
Everyone had given up hope and moved on with their lives, Geo included. The Wongs eventually divorced, unable to cope together with the loss of their child. Georgina went off to college and after graduation, began the inevitable claw to the top of the heap, eventually making her way into a prime spot (right next to her fiancé, who was coincidentally the owner of the thriving cosmetics company she worked for). But regardless of her successes in life, Geo continued to live in fear . . . right up until the day Angela was found.
The bones were 14 years old and the clothing that still remained attached was nothing but mere scraps and rags. Angela was a ghost brought back to life from a shallow grave, one that had been hastily dug behind Georgina’s house in the quiet neighborhood she’s grown up in with her father. It was the house where Angela had promised her parents she was spending the night when last she spoke with them . . . mere hours before she was brutally murdered.
The fear Geo had lived in for 14 years – it vanished like a puff of smoke. In its place came feelings of clear acceptance, a cool calm, and a stoic relief.
She’d carried this secret for most of her life. She’d been there the night Angela was murdered; she’d played a part in it. And when her boyfriend from way back when, the enigmatic Calvin James, was brought up on murder charges, Geo knew it was only a matter of time before her name came up as an accomplice. She fully expected the outcome – that she would end up in jail – but she guessed the one thing she didn’t expect was the fact that her one of her oldest friends, Kaiser Brody, would be the officer leading her there in handcuffs.
Officer Brody spent much of his teenage years following Angela Wong and Georgina Shaw around like a lovesick puppy. Which one he was in love with, well, that was a hard question to answer. Angela was so vibrant and full of life, no matter the fact that her attitude could turn on a dime and her pretty mouth could emit such scathing critiques or harsh words. Georgina was the soft to Angela’s hard; she was quieter and much more interesting, considering the fact that you had to scratch way beneath the surface to see what truly lay beneath the facade. He’d tagged along behind them all through high school, enjoying afternoons at Angela’s huge house spent lazing about in front of the tv sharing a pizza, or Friday night’s cheering both the girls on from the stands as they cheered on the football players. The last place Kaiser expected to be was on the side of the law against Geo, but . . . he’d always known that Calvin James was trouble . . . he’d tried to tell her plenty of times.
They said Angela’s murder was part of a serial killing, that Calvin was a sharp-tongued predator who cut down young women in their prime. He’d lure them to the woods, rape them, and then cut them into small pieces before burying them. He’d used tools from the shed behind Georgina’s house to slice up Angela Wong, and he didn’t feel sorry for it one bit. They said Georgina had watched, horrified, but frozen in time against a man who could just as easily have done the same thing to her. They said she stayed silent, and that was her crime.
Well, they got a few things right. But . . . they got more than one thing, wrong.
When she passed Calvin in the courtroom after her sentencing, Georgina felt invisible icy fingers travel up her spine. He’d passed her a note, but she was too terrified to read it. He’d nodded at her, slightly, an acknowledgment of their secrets. He looked the same. He was still the man she’d fallen in love when as a gullible teenager; he was still charismatic and charming and hopelessly good-looking.
And Geo hoped that the things they shared between them remained buried a hell of a lot better than Angela had.
Jar of Hearts is the newest novel by Jennifer Hillier, an author best known for her singular spin on psychological thrillers and her twisting plots. While this is the first novel I’ve personally red by Hillier, I don’t mind admitting that I am dying to read more (no pun intended).
The novel is fast-paced and a bit bone-chilling. Geo’s character has so many faces, it’s almost hard to keep up. The portrait painted of her serial killer boyfriend, Calvin, is cruel and as uncomfortably bumpy as a wooden roller coaster ride. The story is set in several parts – Geo’s teenage years leading up to Angela’s death, Geo’s time spent in prison for her part in the crime committed, Geo’s life after parole, and the perspective of Kaiser Brody (Geo’s childhood friend and detective assigned to the mysterious and gruesome killings that begin to take place after Geo is released from prison).
While books that bounce back and forth between time periods and perspectives can often become cumbersome, Jar of Hearts is the exact opposite. It reads like a reel of film noir, creaky and creepy and full of dark corners. The psychological aspect is well-planned and executed beautifully, while often keeping the reader on their toes and wary about making alliances with any of the characters.