Ugly Little Secrets: A Patrick Canning Book Review

A suburban town outside of Chicago seems like the ideal backdrop for Francine Haddix to get away from her less-than-ideal life in San Francisco. While she housesits for her sister and brother-in-law, she will have the opportunity to enjoy all the neighborhood has to offer. What she doesn’t suspect, however, is that sometimes the smallest towns have the darkest secrets.

In Patrick Canning’s Hawthorn Woods, he combines the best pieces of 1980s nostalgia and mystery novels to bring an adult Nancy Drew with a twist. The main character, Francine, is stumbling her way through life after her divorce and retreats to her sister’s home in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois while Ellie and Pete enjoy a late honeymoon. It seems like the picturesque neighborhood is the perfect place to spend some time alone, with the exception of her nephew Charlie, until her first few nights in town begin with a drink being thrown in her face and nearly catching an unidentifiable person murdering another neighbor’s pet. It’s a good thing she read all those Nancy Drew novels as a kid, because she was prepared to use her detective skills to find out what was going on.

“Everyone loves a good mystery,” Canning said in a press release. “As Francine points out in Hawthorn Woods, solving a mystery can be a defiant act of taking a slice out of the chaotic universe and working until it makes logical sense. I hope readers will enjoy joining her as she attempts to do just that, and find some light in otherwise dark circumstances.”

In no time at all, Francine has questions. A lot of questions. What is going on with Michael Bruno, who is clearly lying about being an author? Why did Magdalena Durham throw her cranberry vodka at her when they had never even met? What’s hidden in the back of the Banderwalt’s shed? Who wrote a threatening message in blood and hung a Nazi flag? Is there just one neighbor trying to keep a secret, or all of them?

The reader stays engaged throughout the entire story with both the realistic characters and slow-burning suspense. The neighborhood comes to life through its descriptions and while the twists and turns catch the reader off guard, it’s easy to follow along. By the time the story comes to an end, it’s hard to believe that the outcome was hardly what the reader anticipated.

Hawthorn Woods showcases Patrick Canning’s ability to create a suspenseful story while keeping out the typically predictable endings. Lovers of mystery, suspense and crime are sure to revel in this novel.