Before She Finds Me by Heather Chavez

The day has finally arrived that Julia Bennet has been both dreading and anticipating. It’s move in day at Anderson Hughes. Her only child, Cora, is starting college. Their light-hearted banner over the things in Cora’s cartful of possessions is interrupted by the arrival of her ex and Cora’s dad, Eric, along with his new wife Brie.

Things become a little tense as Brie is not Julia’s biggest fan. About to go in search of Cora’s lost phone, Julia is halted by an uneasy feeling. Is it Brie’s presence or has she sensed something else? When she hears the first pop, she listens. At the second pop she reacts and pulls Cora to the ground. The rest of the crowd is slower to respond. There are three more pops. The man that had been next to them falls and Brie collapses on top of him. Then the screaming begins.

Julia’s story begins Heather Chavez’s newest novel, Before She Finds Me, then we meet Ren. Ren Petrovic is debating with her unborn child the merits of a belly band or a shoulder holster for her gun. Of course she’d much rather be home shopping for poisons. You see Ren has an unusual profession, she is a contract killer. Nolan, her husband, deals with the clients and Ren does the research. The circumstances decide which one of them carries out the contact.

A call from Nolan interrupts her shopping. It’s a call she’s received before – a check-in call after a job to say things went ok and I’ll be home soon. The only problem, they didn’t have a job scheduled.

Back at Anderson Hughes, the shooting has stopped. Cora has a bullet wound in her arm, Brie is dead and the man that fell next to them is unconscious. As the first responders try to restore some order to the chaos and find answers, the assumption is it is another senseless mass shooting. But Julia has studied guns and violence, her own mother was murdered, and this scene doesn’t feel random.

Ren knows it’s not. Why would Nolan do a job without planning? His explanation doesn’t quite satisfy Ren. She’s a killer but one with her own code of ethics. She only kills those who deserve to die. Her research is not only to find the best way to do the job but also into the target. What did they do to warrant being killed? Nolan had two targets, one who supposedly killed someone and a person related to the first target. What was the related person’s crime?

In the days following the shooting, Julia tries to keep Cora close and help Eric. At least two are dead, Brie and the man who fell next to them. The rumor is a student is also dead. Then Julia sees footage of the shooting on the news and comes to the realization that the bullet that struck the man was intended for Cora. Without his stumble and Julia’s quick reaction, Cora might be dead. Cora was one of the targets. Then a news report reveals that a student didn’t die as rumored, she was just shot in the arm.

Ren has reservations about Nolan’s explanations but he, their unborn child, and her father are her family. Besides her code of ethics, family is all she cares about. Ren starts the research that should have been done before the shooting and discovers Julia. She is drawn to her. Her obvious love for her daughter and her love of plants are things Ren admires. If Ren could have friends, Julia could be one.

But Ren’s world is starting to unravel. Oliver Baird is rich, powerful and a client. The client Nolan thought hired them. But he is Brie’s father. He has Ren brought to him and gives her an assignment – find Brie’s killer.

Ren will do whatever it takes to protect her family including finishing the contract. Julia is equally determined to keep Cora safe and find the killer. Because the police have realized this was not random violence and Eric is a prime suspect.

Julia and Ren tell their story in alternating chapters that reveal each woman’s life while also building suspense. For me, Ren was the more interesting character even though she lacks empathy and compassion. Julia is easily likeable, Ren is not. Even though I couldn’t admire her, I found myself pulling for her and hoping she could redeem herself.

This is a suspenseful story that builds steadily then races toward the end. If you like Ruth Ware or Gillian Flynn, you might enjoy this one.

Review by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

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