In Jennifer Hillier’s debut thriller, Creep, the Tell Tale Heart Killer abducted and murdered several young Seattle women. Hillier’s tense sophomore effort returns to the setting of the earlier book one year later. High-end escorts are being killed, each found with the words “Free Abby Maddox” carved into their bodies. The victims all bear an uncanny resemblance to Maddox, the Tell Tale Heart Killer’s girlfriend and presumed partner. Still at large at the end of Creep, Maddox is now in prison and awaiting trial.
In exchange for sentencing considerations, the police want Maddox’s help with the new murders, but she will speak only with Sheila Tao, her boyfriend’s former lover. P.I. Jerry Isaacs is asked to consult with the police because of his history with Maddox: she once slit his throat, nearly killing him.
Where Creep was a study in addiction, Freak focuses on obsession. Hillier has a deft hand for introducing (or reintroducing) characters, which should allow the new novel to stand alone. Readers of Creep, however, may feel a bit cheated, because Maddox’s capture and the dissolution of Jerry’s marriage occur between books. Nevertheless, by giving her characters lives outside the action on the page, Hillier lends them added depth. Neither the killer’s obsession with Maddox, nor Maddox’s obsessions with her own freedom and Sheila Tao, would have the same potency without the distance of elapsed time.
Freak is very much Maddox’s book: she’s manipulative, intelligent, and ruthless. The author quotes Hitchcock as saying, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” While the novel’s climax may seem like a foregone conclusion, Hillier nails the suspense leading up to it, in the process delivering another intense and page-turning thriller.