Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Child's Play" by Merry Jones

REVIEW and GIVEAWAY
Child's Play
(Elle Harrison Thriller Book 3)
by Merry Jones


Child's Play is the third book in the Elle Harrison Thriller series by Merry Jones. Also available: The Trouble With Charlie and Elective Procedures.



Child's Play is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.


Description
Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences - like learning trapeze.
Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.
Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?
Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?
Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

Excerpt
I was the first one there.
The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.
Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.
I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.
My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.
God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.
I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.
Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the fa├žade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.
Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.
I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.
I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
"A nurturing and protective elementary school teacher is thrust into a web of unspeakable evil. Riveting, suspenseful and diabolical, Child's Play keeps the reader anxiously and eagerly turning the pages." ~ Mary Jane Clark, New York Times Bestselling Author
"What a wild ride! Merry Jones' Child's Play starts on the first day of school and gets ever more terrifying from there. The novel is a terrific mystery, with the sins of the past rising to swallow an entire town, but it triumphs as an examination of female friendship, how it nurtures and how it destroys. Not to be missed." ~ William Lashner, New York Times Bestselling Author
"Surprising, dark, and even disturbing. A fragile and vulnerable young teacher faces a terrifying first day of school - and that is just the riveting beginning. Timely, provocative and sinister, this twisty story of family and friendship is not for the faint of heart." ~ Hank Phillippi Ryan - Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark award winning author
"What’s behind these horrors culminates in helter-skelter chaos. Elle’s home becomes the center of a tragic universe, since she 'attracted tragedy and death.' That combination is magnified many fold as bodies pile up. And readers are left enchanted by another 'Elle-oquent' thriller." ~ BookReporter
"The murder of the principal and a teacher on opening day at an elementary school a terrifying scenario. In Child's Play Merry Jones showcases her unique skill in delivering this dark, very dark, thriller with a modicum of humor. The end, well, you won't see it coming amid the tortuous twists and turns. Merry Jones at her best!" ~ Patricia Gussin, New York Times Best-selling Author of After the Fall

My Review


By Lynda Dickson
Just before the start of the school year, second grade teacher Elle Harrison discovers the body of the school principal stabbed to death in her office. Detective Stiles, who interviewed Elle two years earlier following the murder of her husband, heads up the investigation. With the help of her friends Becky (a fellow school teacher), Susan (also her lawyer), and Jen, Elle navigates her way through a series of murders, a persistent real estate agent who seems to be a bit too interested in her, an obsessed former student, and even circus school. Who'll be left standing?
Sorry to say this, but Elle is one of the most annoying characters I've ever come across. She second guesses all of her decisions and runs an incessant internal monologue - and this in sentence fragments, not even full sentences. As she herself states, "I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing." So much so, that her friends call it "pulling an Elle". Things are so dramatic and over-the-top in her mind but, when something happens in real life, it's described so matter-of-factly that you need to re-read that section to find out what exactly happened or if, in fact, it did actually happen and wasn't just a figment of her imagination. While the reason for her "dissociative disorder" becomes apparent toward the end of the book, it still feels like an unnecessary gimmick.
Throughout the book, asterisked section dividers (***) are over-used and excessively disruptive. It's almost as if the author has invented a new form of punctuation - a kind of exclamation mark for an entire scene, like "ooh, insert jaw-drop here ..." after something shocking (in her eyes) happens, even though the next sentence follows on directly.
Unfortunately, I also found the plot predictable and saw the ending coming a mile away. The only reason I kept reading was to see how long it would take for the penny to drop. It never does. The only redeeming feature is that you don't need to have read the previous books, as the narrative seamlessly incorporates any background information you need to know.
One for the die-hard fans only.

About the Author
Merry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been The Trouble With Charlie and Elective Procedures. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.





Giveaway
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card or one of three ebook copies of Child's Play by Merry Jones.

Links