By Mary Kay Andrews
Published in 2021
A few years ago, I picked up a Mary Kay Andrews book from my library, inhaled it, and immediately read every novel by her that I could lay hands on. Her books are fun, beachy reads and most of the ones I devoured were set in and around Savannah, with heroines who hit a rough patch but always made things happen and turned their life around. Seriously, sometimes I was envious of them – bad luck and all.
However, reading The Newcomer was like revisiting your favorite vacation spot or restaurant that you loved as a child – and it just isn’t as good as you remember. Granted, I haven’t read a Mary Kay Andrews novel for a few years so my memory might be off, but I don’t think so. Possibly it’s because this is different from her usual fare. Where her other books I’ve read dealt with guy or financial trouble, this one starts with a murder.
Here’s the story: Scarlett (Letty) Carnahan arrives at her sister’s brownstone to take her four-year-old niece, Maya, out for their Sunday play date. Instead, she finds her sister, Tanya, dead in the foyer. Based on her sister’s warning that if anything happens to her, her ex-fiance Evan did it, Letty grabs Maya, a go-bag of cash that Tanya had hidden, and flees New York. With no idea where to go, Letty heads for a small hotel in Treasure Island, Florida based on an article about Southern hotels inexplicably found in Tanya’s go-bag.
Letty and Maya are taken in by the big-hearted Ava who gives Letty not only a place to stay, but also a job. Her son, Joe is a cop and takes a much more suspicious view of the pair. Once installed, Letty discovers that Tanya had also stayed at that motel, running a scam with her ex-boyfriend just before she moved to New York, despite telling Letty she’d been in Atlanta. Apparently, Tanya was full of secrets and had no problem lying about anything she wanted to hide. This became more apparent when Letty finds a photo of Tanya’s ex-boyfriend, who has eyes exactly like Maya. Which means that Evan, who was suing for custody of Maya, isn’t even her father. Regardless, Evan is determined to find both Letty and Maya, to the extent he hires an undercover FBI agent to have Letty killed. Of course, the fact he’d put a large portion of his real estate holdings into Tanya’s name, and they are now owned by Maya, adds a bit of impetus to his actions. Will Letty be able to prove Evan killed Tanya before he finds her?
So there you have a good setup for a thriller – which is definitely a departure from what I was expecting to read. But it’s also where the book fell flat for me. Some things were minor. A bit of head hopping, odd POVs, just small things. I was scratching my head over a character who met Tanya in AA and 200 pages later tells Letty she needs a drink – not metaphorically, she invites Letty out for one. And I’m still trying to figure out why anyone driving from New York City to Florida would cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Okay, it’s feasible but you’d be going way out of your way and it’s certainly not the route I’d take.
What did it for me was the lack of tension, both in the plot and the romance. There wasn’t one iota of romantic tension between Letty and Joe. No chemistry at all, at least none that I picked up. Add to that most of the characters were flat and Letty lacked agency, and you have a potentially great story that didn’t live up to its promise. Yes, Letty took action by fleeing from New York and then made the decision to go back once Evan had been placed in custody (although she didn’t bother to stay to hear his sentencing), in between – i.e., the majority of the book – everything was done for her, despite the fact she stated over and over again she didn’t want to be “rescued.” Either Joe or the FBI agent drove the action. Letty spent most of her time fretting over Maya who was, in the nature of most four-year-olds, kind of bratty and demanding.
If I’d never read a book by Mary Kay Andrews, I wouldn’t look for another one. However, history counts for something so I’ll probably take the plunge again. However, I can only give this book 2.5 stars.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.