Red Leavesby Paullina Simons (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 11, 2017 (reissue edition)
Genres: Adult, Crime, Mystery, Psychological Suspense
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In the tradition of Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History comes a suspenseful thriller from the international bestselling author of The Bronze Horseman—an utterly captivating story about four Ivy League students whose bizarre friendship leads to a twisted maze of secrets, lies, betrayal, and murder.
As the star player of Dartmouth College’s women’s basketball team, Kristina Kim is beautiful, intelligent, and fearless. But though she’s just 21, Kristina has already had her share of heartache, loss, and dark secrets that haunt her. She’s best friends with Conni, Albert, and Jim, but the only one who seems to really know her is Albert. With long dark hair, tattoos, and a rebellious streak, Albert doesn’t fit in with the rest of the clean-cut Ivy Leaguers. Like Kristina, he has his share of secrets—secrets that are beginning to unravel this intimate circle of friends.
One wintry Thanksgiving weekend tragedy strikes...
When Detective Spencer O’Malley goes to investigate something suspicious at the foot of a steep hill on Dartmouth’s campus, he doesn’t expect that the frozen, naked body found in deep snow would belong to Kristina Kim—the remarkable young woman he met recently who entranced him. Now Spencer will never know if the chemistry he had with her was real. All he can do is find her killer.
Spencer is pulled into the strange, complex web of the surviving friends. Many important questions about Kristina’s murder cannot be answered, such as: why did none of them report her missing for nine days before her body was discovered? The more Spencer digs, the more clear it becomes that each of the three has a motive for killing Kristina. And as Spencer, seeking justice for a dead girl, is led down a labyrinth of deceit, every new revelation proves more shocking than the last….and more dangerous.
“Simons handles her characters and setting with a certain skill, creating mystery from the ordinary, protected lives of these Ivy League kids, slowly peeling away their deceptions to reveal denial, cowardice, and chilling indifference…an engrossing story.”—Publishers Weekly
Red Leaves focuses on a group of four friends in their senior year at Dartmouth College, and their seemingly perfect relationships and friendships that have frayed to the breaking point until one of them ends up dead right before Thanksgiving in 1993. The first third of the book is told in Kristina Kim’s point of view, where we get to know her intimately–or so we think– and her boyfriend Jim, her best friend Conni, and Conni’s boyfriend Albert. The rest of the book is told by Detective Spencer O’Malley, who met Kristina Kim a few days before she was killed, and now he must lead her murder investigation. He certainly doesn’t expect to find such a twisted web of lies, backstabbing, deceit, and betrayal from the three remaining friends, or for Kristina’s charmed life to be so full of darkness she worked hard to keep hidden.
Kristina was the star center of the Dartmouth women’s basketball team, and she was smart, nice, and outwardly successful with a handsome boyfriend and a tight knit group of friends that she’d made freshman year. But she also drank too much even though she wasn’t 21 years old yet, a bit wild, and much too fearless for her own good. She worked part time at a home for pregnant teens, as well as juggled basketball with classwork. A picture perfect college student who didn’t like to talk about her family because she was secretly married and was hiding so much more from her friends. I found Kristina’s erratic inner thoughts and her outward actions towards her friends to be compelling–in a hot mess kind of way. She liked to get drunk and walk naked on a bridge for some reason. This type of things made me not be able to put this down, just waiting to see what kind of self-destructive thing Kristina would do next. Her world and relationships were imploding, but she was trying to make things right.
But then Kristina’s naked body is discovered in the woods on campus nine days after Thanksgiving, buried under three feet of snow. Detective Spencer O’Malley gets the call to investigate something suspicious on campus, and he recognizes the boots sticking out of the snow immediately as Kristina. And this is when I really began to enjoy Red Leaves. Where Kristina was barely holding on to the world, Spencer is barely living life in other ways since his wife died in a car accident. He’s merely existing between working on the small police force in Hanover, drinking himself to sleep, then starting over again. But he saw Kristina pulling on new black leather boots in the cold, and he was instantly intrigued. He never did get any further than the few hours conversation that they had because he now had to find her murderer, and her friends are far from cooperating with the investigation.
And her so-called friends are pieces of work. You have her boyfriend Jim that has been pulling away for months, barely touching her anymore. Her overly-optimistic best friend Conni is constantly insinuating that Kristina is sleeping with Conni’s boyfriend Albert, even though Kristina and Albert never touch or hardly speak to each other. Plus there’s dark and mysterious, long haired Albert–the opposite of most people who attend Dartmouth. He’s much too relaxed and cool about Kristina’s disappearance, and why did none of her three friends think to report her missing when they had to keep her dog for nine days? Something isn’t adding up to Spencer…
It’s like Spencer told Kristina when she asked him why people commit murder, “Power and intimidation. That’s all it’s about.”
I give Red Leaves a four out of five. This book was a bit of a slow burn, especially throughout the first third told in Kristina’s point of view. The four friends are all a bit whacko, and that makes them more fun to read–especially when some of them start to give up more than they should. I really loved Spencer and his point of view. He never revealed that he knew Kristina before she died and that was why he so doggedly pursued this case, but this obsession for him was a way to find justice for Kristina and put to rest the what-if’s of his life. Set in 1993, I liked going back to the time before cell phones and other technology when I was just starting college. While the ending isn’t a typical conclusion for a murder mystery, the murderer is brought to justice in a satisfying way. It was very fitting for this dark and twisted book where no characters were black and white, they were all shades of grey leaning more towards the dark side.
Just a side note: I purchased the Kindle version from Amazon since my copy didn’t arrive for the book tour, and towards the last half of the book in Spencer’s POV Kristina was referred to as Krishna several times. I’m not sure if this was from the previous release of Red Leaves, but it was a bit distracting to see the name go back and forth.
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About Paullina Simons
Paullina Simons is an internationally bestselling author whose novels include Bellagrand and The Bronze Horseman was born in Leningrad in 1963. As a child she immigrated to Queens, New York, and attended colleges in Long Island. Then she moved to England and attended Essex University, before returning to America. She lives in New York with her husband and children.
Connect with Paullina Simons
Paullina Simons’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for RED LEAVES:
Tuesday, April 11th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, April 12th: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps
Thursday, April 13th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Monday, April 17th: Art Books Coffee
Wednesday, April 19th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Thursday, April 20th: Bewitched Bookworms
Monday, April 24th: Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, April 25th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, April 25th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, April 26th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, April 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, April 28th: A Bookworm’s World