The Girl in the Maze, by R.K. Jackson

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, R.K. Jackson, Alibi, and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Jackson seeks to make a mark on the psychological thriller genre after a successful career as a science writer and employee of CNN. This debut novel has a number of great aspects, as well as some tweaking a first-time published author can expect. After a psychotic break and time in an institution, Martha Covington arrives in Amberleen, Georgia. She’s taken a job working with the local historical society and is helping with a project to preserve this history and lands of the Geeshee, who descended from slaves and have remained a strong presence for the past two centuries. While transcribing the oral histories of the region, voices that haunted her in the past reemerge and leave her scrambling to understand what is going on, both inside her mind and in her environs. After a horrific murder finds her pitted as the perfect suspect, she must go into hiding to keep the authorities away. She is innocent, or so she thinks, but has no one to vouch for her, save an activist sought by the authorities for his own transgressions. Could the mysteries she uncovered in her research be the key to why she is being targeted? Might her mental illness be something that can be handled without medications by the Geeshee? Jackson poses these and many other questions in a fast-paced novel that pulls the reader into the dark side from the early stages.

An established writer, Jackson can expect to have the polish of the written word and utilise this forte to pull the reader into the story. Much of the story is strong and the dialogue believable, placing the reader in rural Georgia without issue. The story moves effectively and the pace is such that a reader feels the progression without too many barricades. However, the “flow of antifreeze from the heart” factor, a psychological thrill, lacks from the outset. There is enough fodder to create something eerie, but its presentation skims only the surface. I did not find myself gasping or wondering what lay beyond the next corner, even if Jackson tried to place Martha in such situations. It was more a thriller with a keen subplot about the horrors of mental disease, a social commentary embedded in the piece. One cannot ignore the numerous capitalisation issues in the unedited proof, which were distractions and an amateur mistake on either Jackson’s part or a gofer given a day to sit at the proofing desk. At this stage (both just before publication and by a man whose life has been writing), this is unacceptable and should never have been left to make its way out of the publishing house. Jackson has some great ideas, some solid means of presenting a story, but needs to work on the delivery and hone that chill factor before publishing under this genre again. Overall, a decent first effort to intrigue new readers.

Kudos, Mister Jackson for this decent first attempt at published work. Keep working on the skills you have and you will surely rise to the middle of your genre. The rest is up to your ideas and the dedication you bring to the craft.