October 11, 2021

Natalie D. Richards: "Seven Dirty Secrets" (ARC Review)

Title: Seven Dirty Secrets  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Natalie D. Richards [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2021
Age: 14+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Tight, evenly-paced story where the tension never lets up. Explores an abusive teen relationship. Features racial diversity among half-siblings.
Cons: Not terribly original if you've read a number of both teen and adult thrillers. Some characters feel a bit underdeveloped.
WARNING! Physical abuse. Drowning. Guilt feelings.
Will appeal to: Those who like a fast-paced, puzzle-ridden cat-and-mouse chase with a role reversal.

Blurb: On her eighteenth birthday, Cleo receives a mysterious invitation to a scavenger hunt. She's sure her best friend Hope or her brother Connor is behind it, but no one confesses. And as Cleo and Hope embark on the hunt, the seemingly random locations and clues begin to feel familiar. In fact, all of the clues seem to be about Cleo's dead boyfriend, Declan, who drowned on a group rafting trip exactly a year ago. And then the phone calls start, Declan's voice taunting Cleo with a cryptic question: You ready? As the clock on the scavenger hunt ticks down, it becomes clear that someone knows what really happened to Declan. And that person will stop at nothing to make sure Cleo and her friends pay. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way. Also, fun fact: as of today, the Goodreads synopsis identifies Cleo's boyfriend as "Cyrus" instead of "Declan". I assume that it was his name in a previous draft.

SAVORY STAPLES

In theory, I love mysteries, but I rarely request or buy one (whether YA or adult), because having been raised on a diet of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and the likes (not to mention, being a Christopher Pike fan) it's difficult for me to read a blurb and get the feeling that the book in question might tell me something new - or be a fresh take on an old trope. And even when I cave in and request/buy the book, it's difficult for me to be impressed. So, take my review with a grain of salt, because I'm a seasoned reader of classic and semi-classic mysteries, and I might be looking for a thrill that is difficult to replicate.
Seven Dirty Secrets isn't a bad book by any means, though I wish it had been MORE. There's a scavenger hunt (who doesn't love those?) with high stakes involved; a (racially diverse) sibling relationship that's central to the plot; and a protagonist with an interest in forensics and a history of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, still scarred (in more than a way) by her past, and now forced by an unknown stalker to confront it once and for all. The pacing is all right, steady without being too frantic, with lots of tense scenes, the right amount of flashbacks and a nice side of clues or supposed ones. I must admit that until the end I wasn't sure about the culprit, though some of the clues sounded too much like false flags, and some of the characters, despite the author's setting them up as suspects, didn't really have a motive that I could fathom. [...]

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

I can't talk more specifically about the mystery itself and some of the relationships, because that would spoil certain aspects of the story; but I can give you my two cents about other things not directly related to the whodunnit:
  • Cleo is a likeable lead, ultimately stronger than her past would suggest, and her interest in forensics is an intriguing trait - but either than mentioning it multiple times, she doesn't seem to put it to much use (also, it's actually her best friends who does most of the internet scouting);
  • some of the characters aren't particularly well-developed (or even have much page time or agency, for that matter), and that results in their sounding either like improbable suspects, or only probable if the author went for shock value (I can't tell you if one of those things does happen though, or I'll spoil the whole book);
  • SDS reprises the old, convenient tradition of having the parents out of the picture, and that might work better if Cleo had to actively lie to them on the phone while pursuing her potentially deadly scavenger hunt. It turns out instead that they're the epitome of neglectful, especially considering that their daughter (or, well, the mum's daughter, but still) was abused and almost killed by her boyfriend more than once...I don't thing that any parent in their right mind could treat such a thing so nonchalantly, not to mention, still keep the dead boyfriend's room (because he used to rent at their house!) the way it was when he got missing, with all his old stuff inside...It's just not believable.
Now, as I said above, I'm a seasoned mystery aficionado, so I'm sure that most readers (especially the younger ones) won't get particularly fazed by some of the issues I had with this story. If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller and a cat-and-mouse game in reverse with a side of diversity, Seven Dirty Secrets delivers, and you'll probably have more fun than I had (mind you, not that I regret the time I spent on it) both following Cleo's adventures and formulating hypotheses about her stalker 🙂.

For more Thriller/Mystery books click here.

12 comments:

  1. Yes!!! A new Natalie richards lol. This part though. "Not terribly original" Yeah I can kinda see that based on the other book of hers I read Five Strangers. Although I still enjoyed it... I get what you're saying though. Especially when you're steeped in classic mysteries, it can be hard with newer stuff to be impressed. But we can still enjoy 'em, right haha? Even if we want a little more...

    This does sound fun with the caveats. I can see maybe reading it.

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    1. You'd probably be more satisfied with it than me LOL. I mean, it WAS fun 😉.

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  2. I find many hardcore mystery fans struggle with YA mysteries. Wish it had been better for you.

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    1. I should probably avoid the subgenre LOL.

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  3. Okay I am laughing because I have SWORN that names have changed in synopses too- but then I always just figure I am losing my mind and roll with it 😂 Also interestingly, the book I had read by this author I had a very similar reaction to yours to this one. I enjoyed it, yes, but there were certain aspects that I just felt were too easy, or unbelievable, and maybe I yelled about her lack of attention to geography a few times heh. So yeah, I have a feeling this would be a quick and fun enough read, though not completely satisfying. Great review!

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    1. Glad to know I'm not alone (I mean, sorry that book didn't work for you, but you know what I mean...). A geography issue, too? 😂

      "So yeah, I have a feeling this would be a quick and fun enough read, though not completely satisfying."
      It's probably one of those YA books that should only be read by real teens, and that's nothing wrong with that of course. (Except that, as a teen, I was reading Agatha Christie already 😂).

      Thank you!

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  4. I am not a seasoned reader of the genre but these are always my issues with it.

    I'm being led, and mis-led by convenient plot contrivances to the point of not caring and the character development is usually lost.

    I can see why the genre is fun for people, even with the issues - after all I read romance and forgive a lot of the same problems just because I like an element of it lol

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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  5. it's the characters that make the book for me so if one or more aren't developed well or are unlikable, it ruins the book for me. I don't read a lot of this genre because it's just not my cup of tea but I totally understand your feelings about it.

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    1. I'm the same about characters - or better, it takes a truly interesting/imaginative story for me to get over weak ones.

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  6. All YA parents do things which defy logic in order for the plot to happen. *shrugs* It's annoying, but what can you do? ;)

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    1. LOL, one can buy into it to an extent, but in this case...🙄

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