Written by Jennifer Hillier — Debut or not, Creep is an impressive crime thriller that’s easy to read and gripping. The story is centred on Dr Sheila Tao. A psychology professor at a major university in Seattle, she seems to have everything going for her and she’s about to marry Morris Gardener, a larger-than-life Texan banker who used to play for the Green Bay Packers. The fact that she’s been having an affair with her attractive teaching assistant Ethan Wolfe is the only loose end, but her aim is to end that relationship before the wedding and sweep the whole thing under the carpet.
Think again Sheila, because Ethan’s more than good looking and sexually ravenous. As soon as she ends it, things go sideways. Although Ethan has a steady girlfriend whom he’s been cheating on, he also has a screw loose and won’t let go. It begins with blackmail but ultimately he kidnaps Shiela. He appears to be a sociopath.
Beneath the surface, Shiela is a complex character too. Her recent success belies a troubled childhood, and a messy first marriage. Her husband left her for another… man! On top of all that, she’s a sex addict. (There’s plenty of sex in this book – and most of it is bad for one reason or another.) Ethan’s been her only lapse in the three years since she met Morris, but what a costly lapse it’s proven to be – in the later chapters she’s chained up in his basement awaiting her own death.
After Sheila disappears, Morris is all cut up and hits the bottle hard. His own little addiction was the Johnnie Walker. The police draw a blank but he hooks up with Jerry, a private investigator. Thankfully, this man’s only vice is cheap Chinese food. Jerry helps Morris in his quest to find Shiela, and they play a cat and mouse game with Ethan.
Hillier is an expert with pacy, suspenseful prose and Creep is hard to put down. The dialogue is easy and natural, and she really gives each character their own voice. From the complex and disturbed Ethan to the flawed Sheila and on to the straightforward Morris, they read convincingly. I particularly enjoyed the African American PI Jerry who frequently teases his client Morris, and is the most grounded of them all.
As can happen with storylines that start off far-fetched, Creep’s crescendo does suffer in the believability stakes. As enjoyable as the characters are, the plot has one twist too many and I couldn’t quite buy all the events of the climax. Still, Hillier’s got an uncanny knack for thriller writing so finding out what happens in the end remains obligatory. It’s a great read, and all the evidence is pointing towards a sequel.
You can read our interview with new author Jennifer Hillier here. If you’ve read Creep, let us know what you think of it below.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars