Instinct, by Jason M. Hough

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley,Jason M. Hough, Gallery Books, and Skybound Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to try something a little different, I excitedly grabbed for this novel by Jason M. Hough, which mixes the intensity of a thriller with the mystery of small-town America. When a police officer in a small Washington community is thrust into a leadership role, she begins to notice that the locals are not acting as they should, or at least how she expects they would. Is there a reason or is this all something wonky about small town life? Hough keeps the reader guessing throughout and makes quite the impact in doing so.

After leaving Oakland PD, Mary Whittaker is still trying to acclimate to life in Silvertown, Washington. It’s small—population 602, small—and the locals seem happy to keep to themselves, but also come up with some typical issues. Learning all she can from the local chief, Whittaker is determined to make her impression on the town and its citizenry. It won’t be easy, but it’s one challenge that Whittaker is bound and determined to overcome.

When the chief takes an unexpected leave of absence, Whittaker is left to run things on her own. She takes a call out of town when a hiker is attacked by a bear, unable to understand why he did not react. After interviewing his companion, it would seem that the man who had little love of nature simply gave up and waited for fate to take its course.

There are other oddities around town, like the introverted teenager who loves gaming but chose to wander out into the woods and died. Or the woman who loves her twins and yet left them at home while frolicking in town. Some call it a reaction to the new cell tower that was erected, but Whittaker thinks that there is more to it. This is one mystery for which she’ll not let the gossips create a narrative.

As she tries to piece things together, Whittaker discovers what might be involved in all the shenanigans, but she is not yet ready to commit to that response. She probes a little deeper, only to see that losing one’s instinct is the least of the town’s concerns, though she might not live long enough to report it to others. A chilling piece that keeps the reader thinking until the very last page flip.

I have never read anything by Jason M. Hough and I am kicking myself for that. In a piece that is full of action and intrigue, I found myself fully committed throughout the process and could not wait to see what was coming next. Hough keeps things on the mysterious side, without venturing too far out of reality. Still, there’s something a little eerie in the story and how things play out.

Mary Whittaker is a strong protagonist in this piece, keeping the reader informed of both her back story and how she develops throughout. Still trying to get used to country or small town life, Whittaker must tackle policing on an entirely new level. While she struggles at times, the reader can see some wonderful development throughout, which enriches the story as well as advancing the narrative.

Hough offers up some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, all of whom do their own thing to make the story all the better. While small town life is not always full of excitement, there is something about the various characters in this piece that flavour the narrative effectively and keep the story moving. Those the reader thinks they know are soon showing another side, which only adds depth to the piece and keeps the reader wanting to discover a little more.

The story itself sounds typical small town, something is going on and the townsfolk are acting oddly. However, Jason M. Hough takes it a step further and delves into some interesting discussions, both on a character level and with the psychology of a person. What makes someone do something and can override those instincts or inhibitions? He tackles this with a strong narrative that progresses throughout, easily taking the reader on many a journey. Additionally, there are some wonderful ‘aha’ moments, as the reader tries to make sense of things with the numerous reveals throughout. The plot stays intense and there are no lack of twists as the piece progresses. A mix of chapter lengths has the reader begging for more, as they read well into the night. I cannot wait to see what else Hough has penned, so that I can compare and enjoy things in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Hough, for a great piece that has me curious. You are definitely on my radar.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons