Craig Hansen's Reviews > Not What She Seems

Not What She Seems by Victorine E. Lieske
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Oct 10, 2010

it was amazing
Read from October 10 to 15, 2010

NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS by Victorine Leiske is a stunning debut novel. Although categorized generally under romantic suspense, this is no Harlequin or Silhouette romance, and although the book will appeal to women, it’s not exactly “chick lit,” either, because anyone who enjoys a good edge-of-your-seat thriller will find this novel appealing.

Personally, I’m a fan of suspense authors; it’s one of my favorite genres. I like some of Thomas Harris’ pre-HANNIBAL novels, I’ve enjoyed most of what James Patterson serves up ever since I discovered his novel KISS THE GIRLS, and there are several others whose names don’t leap to mind as quickly.

Yet that doesn’t mean I’m an easy mark for suspense novels. Harris’ work went off the rails with HANNIBAL and HANNIBAL RISING. And James Patterson can get a bit stale at times. I even used to read John Saul many years ago; I enjoyed SUFFER THE CHILDREN, WHEN THE WIND BLOWS and COMES THE BLIND FURY until I realized he was basically writing the same book over and over again.

Of those three, the only one I still read is Patterson, and it’s been a while since any of his novels seemed genuinely fresh to me. But I’m hooked on Alex Cross and, to a lesser degree, the Women’s Murder Club, so what is a person to do?

As I was searching for solid suspense authors on Kindle, the name of one Kindle author kept coming up over and over again in various forums. Victorine Leiske. So I decided to pick it up for $2.99 (at the time… it’s now discounted to $0.99) and give it a shot.

NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS has all the elements one might expect from a romantic suspense novel. An idealized male hero; a female heroine who is sympathetic but not entirely un-suspicious; and a full cast of characters who add texture and depth to the tale being told.

The novel centers around Steve Ashton, a self-made billionaire of the digital age who might remind folks of a good-looking, younger Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or even videogame designer Brian Wood, who recently sacrificed his own life in a tragic auto accident in order to save the life of his pregnant wife by turning his car at the last second so that an oncoming car would side-impact his vehicle on his side, sparing his wife.

Whoever Steve Ashton makes you think of, this is one billionaire who seems a bit too good to be true. Younger than most, harder-working than many, and of course, in PRINCE AND THE PAUPER fashion, a bit bored with fame and luxury and itching to get out there and “live unrecognized among the common folks.”

Ashton’s ennui is brought about by the fact that he’s so famous, all anyone sees when they meet him is his money and no one seems to like him for who he is as a person. And of course, like all heroes, he’s actually a good person buried under all that success and money and fame.

On his way into hiding, he bumps into Emily Grant, a harried single mom who is on the run from a dark past filled with shame and secrets. Initially they share a spark, a moment, but then go their separate ways only to meet up again later on, in the same town Ashton was headed to. Could Steve finally have met someone who doesn’t recognize him and whose interest might therefore be genuine? Can Emily have any hope to escape her past?

Well, that’s what the novel is there to tell you, folks. I’m not reviewing this book to spoil the story, but to give you just a taste of the concept. What I really want to talk about is whether I liked NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS or not.

And I liked it. A lot.

In fact, although I was originally going to write that NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS ranks as the best novel I’ve read on Kindle so far, that’s too faint a praise for the book, considering I’ve only owned a Kindle ofr about six or seven weeks and have read only a handful of novels on it.

I was also considering writing that NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS is the best suspense novel I’ve read in “a mighty long time.” At least several years.

I even considered saying it was the “best first-novel I’ve ever read by any author.”

But as I thought over all the novels I’ve read in the past decade or so, I realized something startling. I haven’t enjoyed a novel, with so few reservations and so few “well buts” as qualifiers, no matter what genre it is a part of.

And I’ve read a lot of books, folks, by some mighty fine authors in the past ten years. Not just Patterson and Harris, but Stephen King, L.J. Sellers, John Irving, Charlaine Harris, Victoria Laurie, Terry Brooks, Seth Grahame-Smith, Bret Easton Ellis, and a whole lot more than I’m going to rack my brain trying to remember.

NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS, however, impressed me more than any novel I’ve read – any novel at all – in at least the past ten years. Bar none.
One element I appreciated is how carefully plotted NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS is. The novel has many twists and turns, and some of the red-herring suspects are completely convincing… until they’re cleared by further revelations. And once the truth is finally known near the end of the book, Leiske pulls off a pleasantly surprising culprit, despite the apt warning telegraphed by the book’s title.

Another appealing aspect is the balance Leiske brings to all her characters, even the dangerous and initially unlikeable ones. They all have empathetic elements to them and reasonable motivations for who they are and how they behave … eventually. Once the truth for each character is known, at any rate.

While her characters act in broad strokes at times, what is especially appealing about Leiske’s novel is that none of them are taken too far over the top; they’re not Hollywood caricatures if action heroes or villains, but believably frail even while acting bravely.

And in a nice parental note, I can’t recall any objectionable language in NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS, and there’s no lurid sexual elements that would make the book rated M for mature or whatnot. Although written for grown-ups, it’s a book that can be read safely by teens and perhaps even younger, depending on a parent’s sensitivity to mild violence – though nothing beyond what is understandable, given the genre of the book.

Leiske also clearly didn’t rush the novel; even minor supporting characters have story arcs that see their way to a resolution, even late in the novel when the action picks up and most authors would push their subplots to the side. As a result of this careful attention to her supporting cast, as well as her major players, NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS maintains the impression of a genuine slice of life tale, rather than an over-the-top action story calculated to maximize the action sequences and special effects budget that Hollywood seems to seek out.

As tightly edited as any traditionally-published novel I’ve ever read, Victorine Leiske’s novel reads quickly thanks to her smooth prose style, and the 67,000 words it is told in leave the reader ready for more. Not necessarily more of Steve Ashton and Emily Grant, mind you, as their story is resolved by the end of the book; but more from Leiske herself, who is working on her second novel.

My hope is that Leiske takes her time and doesn’t rush her next book to market; after such an impressive debut, it would be a shame if she bowed to pressure and put out her next novel before it was as smooth and seamless as her debut. It’s a misstep that befalls many writers, the “sophomore jinx,” but hopefully it will not apply in Leiske’s case.
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