Title: Darkness at the Edge of Town by Jennifer Harlow
Iris Ballard Series Book Two
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
A complicated, charismatic forensic psychologist tries to rescue her brother from the clutches of a maniacal cult leader in this edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller from the author of Beautiful Maids All in a Row.
After catching an infamous serial killer, Dr. Iris Ballard has become a TV sensation. Exhausted from her appearances on the talk-show circuit, she’s looking forward to some quality time with Luke Hudson, her former FBI partner and on-again, off-again lover. The last thing Iris wants is to get pulled back to her dying Rust Belt hometown, but after the frantic call from her mother, she doesn’t have a choice.
Iris is a disgrace in Grey Mills, Pennsylvania, but her twin brother has gone and outdone her. Billy has abandoned his fiancée, drained their checking account, and quit his job to join a cult called the New Morning Movement. Expecting to find something sinister at play, Iris is eager to destroy the quixotic hold they have on her brother. And that means outwitting the cult’s cunning, sadistic founder, Mathias Morning.
Iris has logic and reason on her side. But Mathias doesn’t play by society’s rules. Just as Iris begins to lose hope, her investigation leads her to cross path with the DEA. And now she needs to save Billy’s life before they’re both caught in the crossfire.
Don’t miss Jennifer Harlow’s first electrifying Iris Ballard thriller:
BEAUTIFUL MAIDS ALL IN A ROW
Darkness at the Edge of Town by Jennifer Harlow is a mesmerizing mystery with a unique premise. Although this latest release is the second novel in the Iris Ballard series, it can be read as a standalone (but it would be beneficial to read book one since prior events are frequently referenced).
Dr. Iris Ballard is riding a wave of sudden fame when her mother calls her to tell her that Iris’s twin brother Billy has joined a cult. Despite her reluctance to return to the dying town of Grey Mills, she nonetheless drops everything to check out the cult and ensure Billy is alright. Infiltrating the New Morning cult is her best way of uncovering the truth about whether or not the charismatic leader Mathias Morning is on the up and up, so Iris immediately begins her investigation. With sympathy for the cult members warring with her instincts that Mathias is a cunning grifter, Iris asks her former mentor Sheriff Tim Hancock to unofficially help her find out the truth about Mathias and his followers. Despite her best efforts to keep her activities hidden from her friend, FBI Agent Luke Hudson, he discovers what Iris is up to and insists on joining her when her investigation unexpectedly becomes complicated.
Iris is a very complex and flawed protagonist with a rather tragic backstory. However, she seems to have finally overcome many of her issues in the aftermath of her encounter with a psychopath. Her return to Grey Mills shows her just how much of her family’s lives she has missed in recent years and she freely accepts the blame for the chasm. However, Iris cannot help but feel a twinge of pain when she realizes the depth of resentment and anger directed towards her from her loved ones. Just as she is trying to deal with her complicated familial relationships, she is also trying to untangle her feelings for Luke. Their history is a jumbled mix of professional and personal and Iris is extremely leery of opening herself up to heartbreak and the possibility of wrecking their friendship.
Concentrating on finding out the truth about Billy, Iris quickly insinuates herself into New Morning where she immediately notices several red flags about the cult. Knowing she runs the very real risk of someone recognizing her due to recent publicity, she works quickly trying to identify the people she meets. With Sheriff Hancock’s assistance, many of Iris’s suspicions about the members are quickly validated but she cannot help but feel compassion for them since she fully understands the psychology of how cult leaders ensnare their followers. She remains frustrated by her lack of progress in learning Mathias Morning’s true identity and just as Iris is on the verge of giving up on bringing Billy safely home, her investigation takes a shocking turn.
Darkness at the Edge of Town is an unusual but thoroughly captivating mystery. Iris is fully aware of her faults and weaknesses and she definitely continues to be a work in progress as she tries to rescue her brother from Mathias’s clutches. Luke is level-headed and very concerned for Iris’s safety once he learns the truth about why she is in Grey Mills. Jennifer Harlow’s portrayal of how cults attract and keep followers is chillingly realistic. The novel is a bit of a slow burner but the story quickly gathers steam and hurtles to an action-packed and exciting conclusion. Old and new fans are sure to enjoy this second installment in the Iris Ballard series.