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The Killer's Cousin

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When seventeen-year-old David Yaffe moves into the third floor of his aunt and uncle's Cambridge, Massachusetts, triple-decker, he already has a lot going against him, but the antagonism his relatives display increases his troubles.Recently acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend in a nationally publicized trial, David struggles to come to terms with the way that the events of the past year have changed his life. His eleven-year-old cousin, Lily, exhibits malicious behavior that escalates from eavesdropping and taunting to "guerrilla attacks" on David's apartment-strewing trash, destroying computer files, gluing CDs into their cases. Consumed by problems in their marriage dating back to the death of their older daughter Kathy four years before, Lily's parents refuse to recognize her disturbing actions and attitude.

Expertly paced, the thriller unfolds tantalizingly slowly, as David learns additional details about Kathy's death and Lily's involvement. As the narrator, he also withholds the full story of his girlfriend's death until the very end, which both adds to the suspense and appropriately reflects his longing for privacy and anonymity. His deep-rooted guilt and loss color his thoughts and cast doubt in the reader's mind about his innocence. Everyday details such as David's adjustment to a new school and his interest in "The X-Files" ground the story in reality. Young adults will eat this one up.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published October 13, 1998

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About the author

Nancy Werlin

24 books1,077 followers
Nancy Werlin writes young adult fiction: New York Times–bestselling fantasy, Edgar-award winning suspense, and National Book Award-honored realistic novels.

Nancy's newest book is the comedy ZOE ROSENTHAL IS NOT LAWFUL GOOD.

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5 stars
465 (21%)
4 stars
719 (33%)
3 stars
707 (33%)
2 stars
200 (9%)
1 star
49 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 297 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
May 24, 2021
okay, this book is not four-stars like proust is four-stars. this earns its rating because after reading a series of "ho-hum" and "meh-meh" teen books - this one was actually pretty good.

except for the epilogue, which made me a little embarrassed. ungood.

it's kind of a ghost story, it's kind of a mystery, it's kind of a story about a creepy little kid, it's kind of a coming-of-age story.

but it works.

it may be just that i read it in about an hour and a half, so my reading didn't get interrupted, but it felt very fast-paced and exciting, and the story itself was well-told and original. and it won an edgar award.

it's weird, i liked it a lot while i was reading it, but today, the day after, i can't remember why.

here is a picture of a wombat tummy instead!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,427 reviews8,339 followers
July 18, 2010
I love Nancy Werlin. Her ability to write different genres always amazes me. The Rules of Survival severed my heartstrings, Double Helix was a decent science-fiction novel, and Killer's Cousin was thrilling and suspenseful.

Seventeen-year-old David Yaffe feels guilty for the death of his girlfriend, Emily - despite the jury acquitting him and proving his innocence. He decides to move in with his aunt and uncle in Massachusetts, where he resides in their attic apartment. Strange things are lurking in the shadows, though. His aunt Julia remains cold and disdainful, and his eleven-year-old cousin Lily proves to be a psychotic freak. Especially Lily, who there seems to be a lot more to than meets the eye.

The sole factor that earned this book three stars was the suspense. It was frightening, and the psychological drama had my head reeling from beginning to end. In fact, I would recommend this only to people who enjoy thrillers or suspense centered books.

Most of the characters irked me, however. I came close to empathizing with David, but only managed to sympathize with him and his guilt. Lily scared the heck out of me, and all of the adults in this novel were irritatingly unaware of the situation unfolding. David's friend Frank and his casual love interest Raina seemed more like plot devices than three-dimensional characters.

Not my favorite by Nancy Werlin, but pretty good.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,386 reviews11.8k followers
February 5, 2010
Nancy Werlin picks another interesting topic to address in her book.

This novel is a killer's story, a story of a teenager who was acquitted of his girl-friend's murder and now has to attempt to start fresh in a new town, among new people. Once he moves in with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, he is forced not only to relive his guilt, shame and regret, but theirs as well, because they have their own tragedies to face.

"The Killer's Cousin" is a skillfully done thriller which in spite of its predictability, still manages to keep you in suspense and even terror. David's "voice" is believable, his emotional torments are sincere. There is no real happy ending to this story, as there is no real way to atone for a murder in real life, but that only adds to the believability of this notable novel.

223 reviews
April 28, 2009
After reading The Rules of Survivaland Impossible, I have become quite a fan of Nancy Werlin, and I found The Killer's Cousin to be another interesting book from this author. The main character's struggle with his past and his strange and difficult present lead to an interesting story with strong character development. Although some readers will predict part of the ending, the final scenes do offer some surprises and a satisfying and hopeful conclusion to a fairly sad story.
Profile Image for Tammie.
1,309 reviews149 followers
July 6, 2015
3 1/2 stars. I enjoyed The Killer's Cousin quite a bit. It was a very quick read. I think the author did a great job of creating tension between characters that you could actually feel. Lilly was a creepy kid and although I figured out her secret right away it didn't spoil the book for me. The character of David was well done. I empathized with him. I probably would have given this 4 stars if not for the telepathic type link he suddenly develops with his cousin near the end of the book. Where did that even come from?
Profile Image for Janie.
145 reviews15 followers
March 29, 2013
Well this is one of those mood whiplash books. And it does it perfectly.
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews42 followers
September 27, 2017
David is almost finished with high school, but, he cannot complete his education in the area where he lives with his parents. Previously on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, he was found not guilty. Because of all the constant media attention, his parents make a decision to send him to live with relatives in Cambridge, MA.

While trying to sort through his life and consequences, it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate both his past, and the new home where, in particular, his Aunt, really does not want him in their house. This family also has a lot of garbage to sort through while also suffering from a great deal of grief because of a death/suicide of a teenage daughter.

The new family includes an Aunt who truly does not want him, a nasty, manipulative sociopath, child, and an Uncle who tries to deal with his own family dysfunction and grief while trying to make David comfortable in their home.

David is dealing with two dysfunctional families, the one he left behind, and the one where he was shuffled off, and he must come to grips with his past, while trying to cope with the present.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,446 reviews61 followers
April 5, 2018
This has sat on my shelves for some years now and I’m not even sure where it came from. I have a vague recollection of picking up free with a selection of other books being given away. I fancied something brief and this fit the bill.

It’s a very quick read, partly the length, partly the writing. The set up is initially intriguing, the supporting cast are nicely portrayed and some of the relationships are satisfyingly complex. I just couldn’t get on with the voice of David - it all felt a little overwrought and melodramatic. That’s probably harsh given it’s about a young adult who is struggling to move on from accidentally killing someone. But there you have it.

The tension builds but the central conceit was fairly obvious and the ending just fizzled (even if it gamely tried to provide an answer for how you move on following something so devastating), while the ‘haunting’ aspects never really worked. Also, is store card swapping actually a thing?

Not bad by any means, just not really for me.
7 reviews
May 25, 2017
I did not like this book as much as I thought I would. I like mystery books so I like the story, but the graphic details were too much for me. David is the main character and he has to finish high school at a different school after he was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend. They had to move to a new town to live with his mean aunt and quiet uncle. His cousin Lily also lived there. I didn't really like her character because I found her weird and annoying. Then he finds out his other cousin had killed himself in the attic before they moved there, so they think the house is haunted.
12 reviews
February 19, 2021
The ending of the book was good but considering there were not that many pages it was very slow to get into the really good part of the book.
Profile Image for ♠ TABI⁷ ♠.
Author 15 books478 followers
October 25, 2013
I have discovered that physcological thrillers are just not my type. Hence the one star rating, but I have a few other reason for that rating as well, which I shall attempt to briefly explain.
I should probably start off with my reason for reading this book in the first place. Fact is, I was interested in the author's works, and so being the bookaholic that I am, I checked out all of the titles my library had by that author. And so this being the least interesting looking of them all, I decided to read this one first. And it turned out, it was a good choice too.
First off, I do not agree with teens being allowed to do whatever they want. I know that sounds strange and first reading this you may think that I am an older person with a vendetta against freedom. Nope, I'm a teen myself with strong ideas of being allowed freedom as well. But the whole idea that teens are allowed to do whatever they want before eighteen, yeahhhh I never like that. Or on the flipside, the teens sneaking whatever they do behind their parents backs. This book had a little of both. While I'm not going to be like "bammo, that's wrong I'm going to burn this book" or some crazy thing like that, I am going to state my opinion. Which I already did, so I guess I can move on now.
The other thing I really didn't like, was the whole messed up lifestyle. Yeah I know it happens, but I just don't like reading about it. That's more of a personal opinion regarding life views. I guess reading this has helped me gain a little bit more of understanding in the twisted ways life can work sometimes :P
I suppose I could go on and on and that this review seems pretty disjointed. Well, guess it's a sneak peek of how the book is. It was just, I don't know how to put it in exact words, weird. Definitely labeled physiological for a reason, because wow was it messed up :P
That's pretty much all I guess I'll say since it captures my thoughts on the book.
17 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2012
Keri McLucas

David Yaffe is seventeen years old and trying to rebuild his life after being acquitted of murder. David’s parents arranged for him to stay with his Uncle Vic, Aunt Julia and cousin, Lily while he finished high school. He struggles to learn how to live with the truth of knowing that he killed someone he loved. Although the death was an accident, simply knowing that he was capable of murder consumed him. At eleven years old, Lily has also experienced the death of a loved one, her sister Kathy. Kathy‘s ghost haunts David, desperately coaxing him to help Lily out of her rage and hatred; however, he wants no part of Lily’s life. Lily confessed to David that she killed her own sister; he wants noting to do with Lily. Through a turn of events, Lily and David are thrown together into a relationship that will help both of them learn to handle their own secret past.

David and Lily share secrets and tremendous guilt in Nancy Werlin’s award winning work. David’s move helps him to finish school without brutal publicity of his crime. His apartment is eerie and dark; haunting. Lily incessantly questions David about his actions and the murder he committed, making him uncomfortable and angry. Both will learn that trying to forget such horrible secrets will hurt more than help. Secret gloom and a gothic style feeling make this mystery capture the reader until the last page!
Profile Image for Katie Young.
19 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2012
Katie Young

David was a high school senior who, acquitted of his girlfriend’s death, decided to finish high school in a different town. He moved in with Uncle Vic, Aunt Julia and little cousin Lily. The family was in turmoil because Kathy, Lily’s older sister had died. David tried to express his psychological concerns about Lily to his Aunt and Uncle but they did not agree. They accused David of being crazy and kicked him out of their house. From the time David arrived in Cambridge, he began to see shadows and hear humming which progressed to seeing his dead cousin Kathy saying “Help Lily”. Unable to sleep because of this apparition, David went for a run and ended up at his Uncles house burning down. David saved Lily from the burning house and helped her cope with life. In the end, Lily was the one who set the fire as a punishment for herself for killing her sister Kathy.

This story is told from David’s point of view which explains the periodic flashbacks to Emily. He is struggling to find himself and live with what he has done.

I was able to read this book in one night. It was easy to read because the storyline took off and kept me interested. This would be a good addition to any Young Adult collection.
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,286 reviews216 followers
February 21, 2015
3.5 of 5 stars

After being acquitted of killing his girlfriend, David moves to Boston for a fresh start. From the moment he arrives at his passive uncle's house he feels unwelcome by his angry aunt and creepy eleven-year-old cousin Lily. David soon learns that his older cousin committed suicide in the bathroom of his attic room, meanwhile Lily's obvious hatred for David continues to grow.

I read KILLER'S COUSIN in one sitting which means it was good enough to hold my interest, but not good enough to make me want to stretch out the joy of reading the book. Despite a lot of passive verbs and telling rather than showing, I liked David's voice in his narration. I got a real feel for his discomfort and remorse, but wished he was less closed off. I felt that he could have been more fully fleshed out. The other characters were basically flat, though Lily's complexity became more dimensional in the last parts of the book. Although this book was first published in 1998, it doesn't feel dated.

KILLER'S COUSIN is a good, not a great book. Perfect for a snowy Saturday afternoon. I would definitely consider reading Nancy Werlin again.
Profile Image for Sarah.
11 reviews
October 30, 2012
The Killer’s Cousin (Playaway)
By Nancy Werlin
Read by Nick Podehl

The Killer’s Cousin is actually quite a surprising story. From the title I had an image of gore and creepy killers but I was quite wrong. David has to repeat his last year of high school living with his aunt, uncle, and younger cousin Lily because of what happened last year. He lives in the attic where his older cousin (who mysteriously died) used to live, suffers through Lily’s awful tricks, and begins to unbury the secrets that have embedded themselves into the core of the family. The beginning had me asking all kinds of questions about what is going on and why these things were happening. Then, as the story unfolded, old questions were answered and new one’s emerged. Listening to the Playaway version helped me to “read” the book at a faster pace and not have to concentrate on the words individually but instead the story as a whole. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in a mystery with many twists along the way!
Profile Image for Cherylann.
558 reviews
January 28, 2011
This is more of a 4.5 star book than a 5 star read. Who knows, as time goes on, I may even bump it up to a five star book.

Werlin crafts and intense psychological thriller in The Killer's Cousin. The novel is narrated by David Yaffe, a young man who is acquitted of killing his girlfriend. When I started the novel, I didn't want to like him. I didn't want to believe. However, as the novel unfolds, I found myself feeling sympathy for David and the emotional aftermath of his girlfriend's death and the trial. As the story surrounding David and Emily unfolds so does the story of Kathy, David's cousin. The novel kept me on the edge of my seat. Even after figuring out what happened and "whodunit" the why behind the events kept me reading. Additionally, after the who and what is revealed Werlin builds suspense to the Why. A spine-chilling thriller that was unputdownable.
Profile Image for Cornmaven.
1,595 reviews
February 24, 2010
A tight, intense psychological thriller involving family secrets, family dysfunction, murder, and redemption. The title can refer to at least three characters in the book, and their lives intersect and intertwine. First person narrative keeps the tension going, as does the slow reveal of what really happened. Everyone except the artist renter is going through PTSD, and how they manage it is part of the story.
The characters are complex and readers can have some good discussions about motive, truth, families, power, healing, and atonement. The ultimate question: Can one really atone for a horrific act?
Profile Image for Liz B.
1,685 reviews16 followers
May 25, 2013
Creepy and atmospheric and always suspenseful, this is the story of a young man who has been acquitted of murdering his girlfriend--but who needs to get out of his hometown for obvious reasons. He goes to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousin in Boston. Turns out his cousin Lily is the creepiest sixth grader ever.

Outstanding choice for book clubs for teenagers--a compelling read which has a LOT to talk about. I would not use with students younger than eighth grade due to implications about sexual activity and one extraordinarily powerful use of the f-bomb.
Profile Image for J.M..
Author 12 books593 followers
September 28, 2013
I can't say that I hate this book but I don't like it. It's a well written story and has great mystery to it. however it just isn't something I really enjoyed. The whole book was depressing and I predicted what happened long before it tells the reader. Lily, the little girl is creepy and a brat and David the protagonist is too much of a push over and the way he reacts to Lily doesn't seem realistic.
Content: some language, violence, disturbing behavior from the child.
Profile Image for Isabella.
8 reviews
January 12, 2010
It's a really good book about lilly ( The eleven year old girl.) and David (The guy who accidently killed his girlfriend.) David finds out a whole lot about lilly in the story with a great ending! I thought it wasn't going to be the best of book but it turned out to be really good. It's not for someone in grade school unless there parents are so positive that it should be fine.
Profile Image for Jackie "the Librarian".
868 reviews258 followers
March 22, 2008
This is one of those thrillers where you know something awful happened, but you don't find out exactly what until the end. Underlying that is the issue of how people deal with guilt, and how a death can tear a family apart.
A solid, suspenseful mystery for teens ages 13 and up.
Profile Image for Jeanine.
733 reviews8 followers
January 2, 2018
This is an old beat up paperback with a cutout in the cover! I had to wonder what this was about. Then I read a few pages and realized if it had been gussied up with a nice cover and I had gotten it from the library I would be all in because the story was compelling.....plus there is at least one mystery presented at the outset. Also this is written first person. I love a book where I know what the protagonist is thinking and dreaming. I don't care if he is unhinged, a drifter, a grafter, or the deacon of the church. So David has been banished, to a different city, by his parents to retake senior year because he has just been acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend who he had loved. His aunt and uncle didn't seem to want him there and he lives in the attic where his cousin died several years before. His younger cousin has some bad seed tendencies and the story begins. I really liked his book. I enjoyed these characters and all the teen aghast.
Profile Image for Sheila.
715 reviews3 followers
January 28, 2019
For when this book was published this was a pretty good story. Now of course every book or story has some flaws but overall I felt that it was wrote pretty well and flowed nicely, not those dry spots where you are like please can we just remove these chapters.
We have David being sent off to live with his mom's brother and family. Now the thing is David has been aquitted and now needs to finish high school however he had a cousin his age that died that would be Kathy and there is eleven year old Lily he doesn't remember Lily to much as she was just a baby and he was a child himself. Upon arriving and living in the attic where Kathy died he is hearing Kathy's ghost? He isn't sure and or why? What is up with Lily? Why does she seem to be so creepy? Find out with David what's really going on with this family.
Profile Image for Amy.
43 reviews
July 13, 2018
This book is about a teeage boy who has come to live with his aunt and uncle to redo his senior year of high school at a different school. He was aquitted of killing his girlfriend and now he has come to live in the attic of the house his cousin died in a few years back. On top of that his other cousin, Lily, is beyond mysterious. To say the least his experience is not a normal one.

I enjoyed this book, but didn't get that feeling where I couldn't put the book down. It wasn't the most exciting mystery I have ever read, but it was a good story. I suppose there wasn't as much suspense as I was expecting. However, it showed the struggle in families when there is death and hardship. It accurately portrayed how stressful and frustrating it can be.
4 reviews1 follower
November 3, 2019
The book “The Killer’s Cousin” by Nancy Werlin is overall a good book. David is the main character, he’s 17, tall, skinny and kind. He has to finish high school at a different school after he was found not guilty of killing his girlfriend. He decided to move to a new town to start fresh and now lives with his aunt, uncle and his cousin Lily also lived there. Lily is another character she is 11 years old and very mean. Vic is David’s uncle and he is kind to him but on the other hand Julia his aunt is sometimes mean to him.

One of the themes of this book is to not judge a book by it’s cover. Also that sometimes it’s best to listen to your instinct.

One thing I enjoyed about the book was how suspenseful it was.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who enjoy suspense and thriller.
Profile Image for Brooke.
36 reviews
February 9, 2021
Where to start. Honestly. I forgot I even read this book to begin with so this review is on my second my second read through. I don't really have a conclusive rating for this. Its somewhere between 1 and 3 stars. It is a decent enough story for it to be given more than 1 I guess, but I feel like there really is no substance to it. It leaves you with more questions than answers and not in a good way. I feel there are so many parts, whole chapters even that are just unnecessary. Each time I turned the page in the last 30 pages I was disappointed. There was so much more room for this story to grow and for it to be a fantastic 5 star book but the plot just was there.
1 review1 follower
October 22, 2019
I gave the book The Killer's Cousin a 3 and a half stars. The book was kind of hard to get into at the beginning and was a little confusing. I liked how the ghost followed david and tried to push david on to help his little cousin. The book had a very interesting ending and I liked how they come together in the end. It was hard to follow along because it was a slow story and only got interesting in the middle and end.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 297 reviews

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