Heather Harlen’s debut novel, Hope You Guess My Name, is a thriller that will make readers wonder what’s behind the veneers of their own communities. Marina Konyeshna, the book’s main character, is threatened after she discovers a human trafficking ring in her hometown in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Harlen’s strength is her in-depth knowledge of the backwoods, abandoned coal mines and heart of rural eastern Pennsylvania. And her comprehensive character development is mesmerizing. Marina’s lack of focus and tendency to daydream accurately portray her mostly un-medicated ADHD. She is full of contradictions, but believable. We all probably have a friend, sibling or cousin who exhibits some of her personality quirks.
With her plucky personality and fallible spirit, Marina could be best friends with fiction characters Bridget Jones and Stephanie Plum; they’d be a terrific trio. Marina works as an event planner, lives in her mother’s basement and has taken a break from her longtime steady boyfriend. She also has a weakness for expensive shoes and purses and a sinking credit score. She thinks life can’t get much worse than it is. But then it does.
This is from page one of Harlen’s exhilarating, fast-paced novel: “The kayak was out of control, like someone drunk texting an ex at 3 a.m. The whirling water spun me sideways again. My shoulder slammed against a boulder… I’d had enough of stupid Mother Nature, so I dug my paddle into the foam and steadied my breath. I heaved myself into the torrent and yanked up on my paddle.
“Crack. Freakin’ A. I was officially the proud owner of half a paddle. Holy Hell. Mother Nature three, Marina Konyeshna zilch.”
A handsome, wealthy Turkish man arrives in town and wants Marina to show him real Pennsylvania life. She takes him to the bazaar and bingo night at her local parish. Her colloquial pattern of speech fascinates him. And he fascinates Marina, at least for a while.
Marina’s relationship with her mother is thought-provoking, though not atypical. Her sister, Janna, barely conceals her animosity toward Marina. She resents always having to be the responsible one while Marina continues to mooch off their mother. Janna’s five-year-old daughter, Piper, is the apple of the entire family’s eyes.
The real thrills come when Marina gets herself and her best friends into a big-money-high-stakes geocaching competition that includes death-defying challenges. Each one seems to be worse than the one before. The plot is cleverly layered and threads dead bodies and minds together in a totally unsuspected connection.
I read this novel in one evening, because I could not stop. It is a page turning thriller. Sometimes I wanted to shout at Marina, NO! Don’t be stupid, don’t do this or that. But, of course, Harlen knew exactly how to put the story together to keep it moving at just the right pace, scattering a dash of wit when needed to prevent readers form hyperventilating. The good news is this is first in a series of Marina’s adventures; the next one will be released in January 2017. I can’t wait!
“Hope You Guess My Name” is written by Heather Harlen. It’s published by Northhampton House. Harlen lives in Allentown.
Our reviewer, Cheryl Bazzoui, lives in Bradford and is a frequent contributor to BookMark.