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Jennifer Strickland is recovering from a terrible car accident, which left her with a severe head injury. Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t remember much about her beige life with her husband, Gregory—that is, until she discovers peaches in the refrigerator—and she knows she doesn’t like them. With this intriguing opening to Walk-in, the story begins an unfolding of Jennifer’s life before the accident along with revealing how very much, and how very unexpectedly, her life has changed.After returning home from the hospital, Jennifer lives very tentatively, trying to unravel the differences between what Gregory tells her of her life before the accident and the way she feels about him and about the observations she makes of her experiences. Her boring clothes and the dull décor of her home just don’t seem to fit. Another aspect of her life she doesn’t like is her husband. She can’t imagine why she would even be with the man, but in her current state, she must rely on him until she figures things out.
Small revelations come as Jennifer begins to process everything in therapy. Slowly she comes to realize that something extraordinary has happened. She isn’t really Jennifer Strickland at all. She is, instead, a lesbian activist who runs a shelter for battered women and children. Her name is Cotton Claymore, and she met her untimely demise in an alley by being severely beaten on the same night Jennifer had her car accident, putting them both in the same emergency room at the same time.
The premise of this story is fascinating. The title reflects the new age concept that one person’s soul may be allowed entry into another person’s body at the time of death, termed a “walk-in.” In this story, Jennifer, because of her brain injury, only comes to a gradual realization of who she really is and the why of two things: why Jennifer would give herself over to Cotton in death and why Cotton would take extraordinary steps to keep on living.
Jennifer’s financial situation (she’s wealthy) makes it easy for her to spend time exploring her current state of affairs, her desire to find her lover, and to need to identify Cotton’s killer. However, what she doesn’t realize is that, by her probing activities, she’s waking up, not only a sleeping bear, but a whole sloth of them. In doing so, she puts her own life, her best friend’s life, and that of someone she loves deeply, in mortal danger.
Gregory is a bit of a clichéd character, but he does make sense by the end of the tale when the entire story is revealed in a final, surprising twist. As Jennifer evolves more and more into the character of Cotton, she takes on a more dynamic and powerful nature, becoming more Cotton-like, casting off her restrained nature of Jennifer’s personality.
The story is well written and red herrings abound as subplots unfold. When Jennifer meets a few significant people from Cotton’s past, the events trigger memories to help move the story forward, and Hart gives us well devised cliff-hanger endings to chapters to keep us turning pages until the shocking end. As the story comes to a close, the loose ends are tied up and everybody is accounted for. There are a couple of details in the story with somewhat inferred conclusions, but they are a small part of the major story.
Walk-in is an absorbing offering from a new Bella author that will hold the readers’ interest with each new chapter. If you like your mysteries filled with red herrings, twists, and turns, you’ll be thoroughly entertained by this book.
By T.L. Hart
Hardcover, 9781594935213, 260 pp.