A Flash of Red – Book Review

flashofredcoverJacob’s sister wrote a book, too, you guys! 😀

Psychological thrillers are a bit out of my wheelhouse, but thanks to this one, I may have found a new genre worth exploring.

A Flash of Red by Sarah K. Stephens tells the intertwining stories of three characters: Anna Kline, a psychology professor afraid that she’s traveling down a dark family path; Sean, her husband, who struggles with feelings of inadequacy; and Bard, a student of Anna’s who has a particular interest in his professor and her subject matter, for potentially dark reasons of his own. 

To say more would be to give away spoilers, as one of the novel’s greatest strengths is how it reveals its characters’ secrets and how it plays on reader expectations. As a new reader of psychological thrillers, I’m generally unaware of the genre’s tropes, but nonetheless I found myself tricked into making certain suppositions in each chapter, only to be surprised by the truth (or developing truth) of the matter some chapters later.

The chapters are also short and quick, which propels the story along at a healthy pace, and despite their length, they convey a lot of information. Stephens is efficient with her characterization, telling the reader exactly what they need to know when they need to know it, often in lovely turns of phrase. 

Characterization is, of course, key in a genre as necessarily character driven as the psychological thriller, and Stephens deftly manipulates how readers view her characters from chapter to chapter, careful to balance their flaws and sympathies. Anna has a very real mental struggle, but she’s also a pretentious intellectual ass; Sean is a manipulative bastard, but he’s also unappreciated by his wife, despite genuine efforts to show his affection; Bard is deeply concerned for his professor and has legitimate reasons for asking her advice about schizophrenia, but he has a manipulative streak as well. Thing is, Stephens writes them so that, from scene to scene, the reader doesn’t know which traits are the dominant traits in each character; in some scenes, they’re all basically sympathetic, but the other scenes sneak a haunting “What if?” into the backs of readers minds.

A “What if?” which lingers even after the final page.

Engaging, fast-paced, and psychologically complex (especially for its length), A Flash of Red is a must-read for people who like to get into characters’ brains – even if they’re disturbed by what they find there.


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