No Beauties or Monsters, Tara Goedjen (Delacorte Press 978-1-5247-1480-2, $17.99, hc 356pp.) December 2021. Cover by Jack Hughes.
In No Beauties or Monsters, Rylie and her family have returned to the US Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms CA after a tragic accident four years earlier. From the very first pages author Tara Goedjen piles on the foreshadowing, with strange creatures sighted, mysterious fog, oblique messages from Rylie’s deceased grandfather, flashbacks to that fateful night in her past, a missing friend, and a teenage killer on the loose. It is clear that there is nothing good for Rylie’s family (or anybody) in Twentynine Palms, but to save her friend and figure out what her grandfather knew (and stop the killer), Rylie has to stay and work a lot of things out.
Goedjen’s strength is in the rapid pace of her plot and No Beauties or Monsters definitely weighs in as a page-turner. From the very beginning, when Rylie maybe hits something on a dark highway, the narrative doesn’t slow down for a second. She reconnects with old friends, checks out her grandfather’s cabin, gets lost on a hike, suffers a blackout, exhibits strange behavior, finds odd connections between her grandfather and the teen killer, and learns that everyone is keeping a secret. Those secrets (and there are a TON of them), can get frustrating for the reader because if everybody would just sit down and share what they know, then things could go a lot smoother. But, human nature being what it is, of course that doesn’t happen, so lots of folks pursue their own goals until the massive reveal at the end, which involves a secret society, the military industrial complex, and a graduate thesis. Also bees; pay attention to all mentions of bees.
There are a lot of characters in No Beauties or Monsters, each presenting some small piece of the puzzle Rylie must put together, and they can appear like convenient plot devices. This is particularly true of Rylie’s mother and stepfather who appear merely to force the move to Twentynine Palms (her mother is in the military) and prompt Rylie to engage in secretive behavior. (In the midst of all the murders they can also seem remarkably obtuse – with a killer running around the town, would any mother, for no reason, really wonder if her daughter was considering sex with an old boyfriend?)
No Beauties or Monsters is a solid diversion that wraps things up in a tidy bow at the end, although it’s impossible not to have questions about what comes next for Rylie. Goedjen’s strongest writing is on the setting, where the remoteness of the desert is on full display. Check this one out for a quick read that will keep you up at night, especially if you like your thrillers just a little bit bloody.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the March 2022 issue of Locus.
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