Imagine being the only child of a multimillionaire. You volunteer at a drop in shelter, helping young women put their lives back together, and you’re engaged to a handsome young CEO with political ambitions. Then imagine finding out that you were adopted as a child and that your biological parents are notorious serial killers and are now serving life sentences.
I’m a huge fan of Kelley Armstrong’s books, and to be honest, I think the serial killer parents angle is a potent enough hook to launch a hell of a series. As the book cover suggests, however, the story has a supernatural twist to it. The first in Armstrong’s new Cainsville series, Omens has almost a Stephen King feel to it, with eerie, inexplicable things happening in a strange small town.
When heiress Olivia Taylor Jones learns her birth parents are serial killers, she runs away from the media circus and hides in sleepy Cainsville, Illinois. Small towns are notorious for not being welcoming to outsiders, but Cainsville takes this to a whole other level, and Armstrong immediately builds a sense of everything hinging upon the town’s supernatural aura. Olivia’s arrival in Cainsville is hinted to be destiny, somewhat because of her birth parents’ mysterious link to the town.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, and Armstrong masterfully weaves all the plot threads into an atmospheric page turner. A visit to her birth mother leads Olivia to investigate her parents’ crimes with the help of her mother’s former lawyer Gabriel Walsh. Is it possible that her parents are innocent after all? At the same time, Olivia is beginning to develop strange abilities — nothing too superhero-ish but rather something so subtle one would even wonder if incidents were in fact supernatural or mere coincidences. Olivia can read signs — a black cat or a certain flower catches her eye and an old rhyme pops to her head, a rhyme that uncannily turns out to be accurate. We know that it’s supernatural because of everything else that’s happening in the book, but I can just imagine something similar happening to myself in real life and dismissing it as mere coincidence. With the popularity of much more kickass super powers, I love the subtlety of Olivia’s, and I love the sense of unease Armstrong cultivates by hinting at but never quite fully revealing the reasons behind Cainsville residents’ odd behaviour.
The mystery behind Olivia’s parents’ innocence leads to a rather elaborate plot that reaches far back into the past. As with the supernatural angle, Armstrong reveals enough to make this book end on a sort of resolution, yet with enough left to still be investigated in future volumes.
It took me a while to warm to this book. Olivia seemed rather spoiled and naive, particularly in the first part of the book. I love that Armstrong made her twenty-four, as similar books are more often found in the YA market, with teen protagonists. At the same time however, there are times when Olivia seemed immature — when her boyfriend fails to run after her after an argument, she is devastated and thinks that proves they shouldn’t be together. She may have been right, but her reaction struck me as petulant and overly romantic, a naive young woman longing for the swelling music and dramatic embrace from the movies. Yet at other times, Olivia seems far too self-assured for twenty four. The way she negotiates with Gabriel and the confidence with which she deals with her situation are remarkable, and rather questionable considering how sheltered her life has been so far.
Still, by the last few chapters, I was devouring the pages and postponing dinner plans as because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Once Armstrong delves fully into the Cainsville setting, the reader gets sucked right into an exhilarating ride. By the end of the book, I just wanted more, and I can barely wait till the next book in the series.
Thank you to Random House of Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.