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Head Games    by Eileen Dreyer order for
Head Games
by Eileen Dreyer
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Trauma nurse and part-time Death Investigator Molly Burke carries a big load of personal baggage. She grew up in a privileged yet loveless home, she's still dealing with Post Traumatic Stress disorder after her tour of duty in Vietnam, she's gone through a few marriages and lost a child, and a lawsuit has left her penniless and working two jobs to make ends meet. She figures she's lucky to have a roof over her head, but even that has its drawbacks. The cold brick home her brother has allowed her to live in brings back too many unpleasant memories. Then there's this weird relationship she's got going with Frank Patterson, the lawyer who left her destitute.

Molly doesn't need any more stress in her life. When police catch her teenage nephew Patrick with an armload of pricey art pieces, she reaches her limit. Patrick declares he doesn't see the problem -- the house and the pieces will all be his one day anyway. Molly sees red. Unprepared to deal with a troubled teen, she tracks down her diplomat brother in China. He claims that he and his delicate wife can't deal with Patrick either. Molly allows her nephew to stay (but on her strict terms). With the help of an elderly and lonely neighbour, she hopes to keep him out of trouble.

Then the body parts start showing up at her house. After the third meticulously prepared gift arrives, Molly and the St. Louis police department are certain they're dealing with a serial killer. They suspect it's one who's been preparing for a long time and is known to Molly -- a lost child who slipped through the cracks like so many others and despite Molly's best efforts to intervene. But now he's all grown up and sets a brand new game in motion, his special way of getting Molly's attention all over again.

Eileen Dreyer has not only developed an incredibly complex plot (and made it work), she's created an equally complex character. Molly Burke drives herself with her work and her bravado, and uses wisecracks and insults to make it through the day. But once she's alone with her memories and her fears, she's never sure when her emotional dam will break. The only one who really understands her is Frank (a complicated character in his own right), though Molly keeps telling herself she should hate him since he's the lawyer who ruined her. But every time her day goes from bad to worse, Frank is there.

Dreyer's twenty years as a trauma nurse has given her rare insight into the plight of abused children. She injects that knowledge into her story and skillfully manages to humanize the monster who's after Molly. Head Games grabs you by the throat from the first page, and steamrolls ahead with one incredible plot twist after another. This is a smart, taut, top-notch thriller, that proclaims loud and clear that Eileen Dreyer is at the top of her game.

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