With many references to Jane Eyre, Little Threats is a hybrid of a thriller and a literary novel. Ultimately, its thriller components—the story’s beginning, when a murder victim is discovered, and the end—are most compelling. In between is a coming-of-age tale set in the 1990s.
Emily Schultz (The Blondes) sets the scene well. When the novel opens, Kennedy Wynn has just been released from prison after 15 years. She and her twin, Carter (named for the American presidents), grew up in an affluent suburb in Virginia where they brought Haley, a girl from a poorer family, into their orbit and helped her strive to be one of the cool kids at school. But then after a night of teenage rebellion, Kennedy found Haley’s dead body and eventually went to prison for killing her. Even after all these years, she has no memory of the crime, which occurred while she was tripping on LSD. And no murder weapon was ever found.
Gerry Wynn, the father of the twins, brings Kennedy home from prison. He was among those who urged Kennedy to go to trial rather than reach a plea deal, a plan that turned out disastrously for her. Upon Kennedy’s release, she and her sister are estranged, partially because Carter has become romantically involved with Haley’s brother. Complications set in when a team from a true crime TV show show up, determined to uncover new evidence.
The plot chugs along on typical suspense tropes, including a hidden book about sex, a folded-up note stashed in one of the girl’s duvets, a jackknife and a letter opener. But Schultz’s attempts to tie these haphazard clues together are as unsuccessful as the TV producer’s efforts to rewrite the history of the crime, and Little Threats fails to meet the standards of suspense set by books like Gone Girl. Readers may feel that they are viewing the Wynns through a scrim. And as the ghost of Haley wanders through the pages, it somehow feels as though the dead girl is more alive than anyone else in the book.