The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin

the killer's cousin

8 of 10: I have really come to enjoy Nancy Werlin’s books. They tend to be a little dark (this one vaguely reminded me of a Robert Comier novel), and so well-written. I can’t stop reading them and I can’t stop thinking about them afterward. The Killer’s Cousin is a mystery with a hint of the supernatural to it. Just brilliant. 

the killer’s cousin by nancy werlin

David should have just graduated from high school. Instead, he spent the last few months on trial for killing his girlfriend. He is acquitted (the jury deems it an accident), but the trial was national news and David Yaffe is something of a household name.

His parents arrange for him to go live with his aunt and uncle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, enroll in a private school and complete his senior year. David isn’t particularly wild about the idea, but he isn’t crazy about staying in Maryland either, so he agrees.

And yet, once he’s there, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that things are not all quiet and calm in his aunt and uncle’s house either. His aunt and uncle don’t speak to each other at all and their eleven-year-old daughter, Lily, appears to absolutely despise David, for reasons he can’t quite determine.

Part of the issues in the household could possibly be attributed to the suicide of their older daughter, Kathy, some four or five years earlier (she was eighteen).

David slips into the daily routine fairly quickly, trying to shake off the events of the previous year (which are revealed bit by bit), but as Lily becomes more and more hateful towards him, and the living situation becomes less pleasant, David finds himself consumed by worry about what to do, what to say, and how to deal with this new set of problems.

And on top of that, he thinks he’s seeing Kathy’s ghost in his attic apartment, which was Kathy’s until her death (in fact, she died in that apartment). It’s a lot to handle right on the tail of standing trial for murder.

The ghost thing makes it sound like a supernatural kind of book, but it doesn’t really feel that way. The book feels so realistic, and the ghostly appearances are just the kind of thing that might happen when you’re staying in a drafty attic apartment that just happens to be the site of a suicide and you’re alone and wound up.

I love books where information is doled out a little at a time, where you don’t ever quite know when you’ll suddenly find out some new and important detail that brings everything into a little clearer focus. And I particularly enjoy it when you have no idea where the plot is going. The Killer’s Cousin fits both of those criteria.

Although I liked Impossible, I’ve found that I prefer Nancy Werlin’s non-fantasy books. This and The Rules of Survival are both really well-written with horrifying situations, but characters you can’t help but really empathize with. Sometimes you just need something a little dark and tense to break up the teen romance books. Time for another Sarah Dessen, I think.

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  1. I'm always on the lookout for a new author. I've never heard of Nancy Werlin before. I'll add it to my ever growing 'must read' list. Thanks.

  2. I enjoyed this one when I read it as an undergrad about 10 years ago. I often recommend Killer's Cousin to my students. Very intriguing read! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. I reread that a few months ago! I actually read it as a teen, and what stuck with me was mostly the subplot about switching grocery store cards, more than the actual plot. I was pleasantly surprised that it held up so well.

  4. I couldn't get into "Impossible," so I was hesitant about "Rules of Survival," but I liked it a lot. I'm going to have to try this one out. If I remember correctly, they rereleased this particular book with a new cover….trying to get new readers.

  5. Good call on the Cormier-alikeness, I hadn't thought of that but it's true. My fave Werlin book is Locked Inside, although I haven't read her newer ones yet.

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