I recently discovered Julia Heaberlin when my local book club selected to read and discuss Lie Still, and I enjoyed the book so much, I also read her debut novel, Playing Dead as well, which received high praise from all of the members of my book club.
Both novels appealed to me because they are set in North Texas, where I live, and Heaberlin does a great job of emphasizing the regional characteristics of this area, its locale, expressions, food, and the overall idiosyncrasies that distinguish Texas from anywhere else. Although Heaberlin may be considered a regional writer, the themes of her novels are certainly universal, transcending geographical limitations.
Although the storylines in both novels are very different, Heaberlin is consistent in weaving together complex, twisty-turny mysteries that will keep you guessing right up until the end.
I recommend both books for readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and are rich in local flavor.
Published July 2013
Genres: Mystery Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Purchase from Amazon: Lie Still: A Novel
In the tradition of Lisa Unger’s Beautiful Lies and Nancy Pickard’s The Scent of Rain and Lightning comes a twisting, riveting novel of shifting trust and shattered lives. Lie Still delves deep into the heart of an opulent Southern town, where gossip is currency and secrets kill.
When Emily Page and her husband move from Manhattan to the wealthy enclave of Clairmont, Texas, she hopes she can finally escape her haunted past—and outrun the nameless stalker who has been taunting her for years. Pregnant with her first child, Emily just wants to start over. But as she is drawn into a nest of secretive Texas women—and into the unnerving company of their queen, Caroline Warwick—Emily finds that acceptance is a very dangerous game.
It isn’t long before Caroline mysteriously disappears and Emily is facing a rash of anonymous threats. Are they linked to the missing Caroline? Or to Emily’s terrifying encounter in college, years earlier? As the dark truth about Caroline emerges, Emily realizes that some secrets are impossible to hide—and that whoever came for Caroline is now coming for her.
This novel is set in the fictional town of Clairmont, Texas. Some fellow readers have told me “Clarimont” is really Southlake, an area where I often dine and shop. It’s a town known for its affluence, and many of the characters in the book represent this aspect. The story centers on Emily and her husband Mike who have moved down from New York because Mike has taken the job as the new police chief. Because of Mike’s importance in Clairmont, Emily is invited into an elite circle of wealthy women led by the socially powerful but bizarre Caroline. I believe Heaberlin when she states at the end of the book:
“ None of the crazy, diabolical Southern women in this book are based on a real person. Most of the Texas women I know are quite nice, thank you, and don’t go around eating Little Debbie cakes with a rifle riding in the trunk of their cars.”
Our club had a lively discussion over whether the quirky female characters prevalent throughout the book, especially former beauty queen, Lettie, who constantly diets, flaunts her supposed lineage to General Lee, and wields a gun as casually as most people handle blow dryers are realistic. I see them as caricatures, embodying some of the stereotypes associated with southern women. The thought of these women actually existing leaves me quaking in my boots.
Through Emily’s character, Heaberlin delves into the devastation of date rape and its long lasting psychological effects. Emily has never fully dealt with an event from college that forever changed her life. Now in Clairmont, when Caroline goes missing, Emily finds her past catching up to her. Clarimont is full of secrets and denial won’t always work to keep the evil at bay.
Heaberlin balances the dark moments of the book with some laugh out humorous scenes that give readers a brief reprieve from the otherwise serious and deadly underlying tone that permeates the book.
All in all a very good read!
Published May 2012
Genres: Mystery Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Purchase from Amazon: Playing Dead: A Novel
“Dear Tommie: Have you ever wondered about who you are?”
The letter that turns Tommie McCloud’s world upside down arrives from a stranger only days after her father’s death. The woman who wrote it claims that Tommie is her daughter—and that she was kidnapped as a baby thirty-one years ago.
Tommie wants to believe it’s all a hoax, but suddenly a girl who grew up on a Texas ranch finds herself linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. Tommie races along a twisting, nightmarish path while an unseen stalker is determined to keep old secrets locked inside the dementia-battered brain of the woman who Tommie always thought was her real mother. With everything she has ever believed in question, and no one she can trust, Tommie must discover the truth about the girl who vanished—and the very real threats that still remain.
Playing Dead is my favorite between both of these novels, and one of the reasons is because Ponder, Texas really does exist. “Think about it” – is the town’s clever motto, and they have capitalized on this by creating a bumper sticker, which I proudly display on my refrigerator.
Tommie Mcloud is the protagonist of the book, daughter of a prominent ranch owner whose entire world gets turned upside down after she receives a letter from an infamous Chicago mobster’s wife who makes Tommie begin to question her own identity and what secrets her family may be hiding.
Since her father has recently died and her mother suffers from dementia, Tommie begins to search for answers on her own, but she quickly discovers that uncovering the truth could cost her and the rest of her family their very lives. No longer knowing whom to trust, Tommie turns to her old flame, Hudson Byrd, whose military experience and connections help her move forward in her personal investigation. Reluctant to get romantically attached to Hudson again, Tommie tries to keep her distance from Hudson, while still relying on his help. Yet by doing so, she puts herself in some dangerous situations that could have been avoided if she’d just listened to Hudson. While the rekindling of their romance adds a layer of depth to the story, it is secondary to the overall plot of who Tommie is and how her family is linked to the mafia and the decades old murders that are somehow connected. Besides some hot kisses, the romance is clean, and intimate scenes are implied rather than overtly described.
The mystery shrouding Tommie’s identity isn’t fully resolved until the last 10% of the book when all of the pieces of the puzzle finally begin to fit together leading up to one big surprise that I never anticipated. Playing Dead was definitely an engaging and suspenseful read!
Source: Borrowed from Library
The setting of Playing Dead is Ponder, Texas, a rural town about 10 miles down the road from where I live. After I finished the book, I thought it would be good to head into Ponder and give you an idea of what the town has to offer.
Ms. Heaberlin refers to Ponder Steakhouse, a great place to dine and is a staple in Ponder.
And of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have lunch there so I could order my absolutely favorite cheeseburger and fries. Remember Jimmy Buffet’s song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise”? Well, that’s where you’ll find one of the best tasting, juiciest cheeseburgers around!
Don’t forget to try the fried green tomatoes, too; they are yummy!
During my visit, I asked our server if she knew about Heaberlin’s novel, and what do you know, they had a copy right behind the counter. I should have asked if it was autographed.
Ponder is also well-known because the infamous Bonnie & Clyde robbed the town’s bank, which is practically next door to the restaurant.
The bank is closed but you can still take a peek through the windows:
If you want to read more about the robbery, you can find original newspaper clippings inside Ponder Steakhouse, yet another good reason to dine there.
If you’re ever in the area, I hope you’ll stop by Ponder and mosey around a bit.
Julia Heaberlin, is an award-winning journalist who has directed arts and lifestyle coverage at the Fort-Worth Star Telegram and The Detroit News. She lives with her family in Texas, where she is at work on her next novel of psychological suspense. (from Goodreads Profile)
Ms. Heaberlin is scheduled to appear at The Book Carriage & Coffee Shop, in Roanoke, Texas, on Sunday, April 13th. If you are in the area, consider stopping by & maybe I’ll see you there!