Review: “False Step,” Victoria Helen Stone

Rating: 4 out of 5

I read Victoria Helen Stone’s False Step because I love her Jane Doe books. This thriller is also quite good, although it doesn’t entirely live up to those two books.

Veronica’s husband Johnny is a hero. He just found a lost child on a hiking trail and brought him out to the police. Johnny loves attention, so he spends as much time as possible in front of the news cameras. Veronica, however, is not even remotely an extrovert, and is terrified of seeing their life in the news. Their daughter Sydney is an extrovert and a daddy’s girl, so she just loves her father even more. For his day job, Johnny is a personal trainer. The extra attention brings him extra clients right when they’re needed. Veronica is a rehabilitation therapist, and all of her elderly patients are star-struck over her husband’s heroism.

Veronica has multiple reasons for not wanting to be on the news. She’s an introvert by nature. She enjoys her privacy. And she’s carrying on an affair with her husband’s best friend. The police seem to be showing a surprising amount of interest in Johnny and Veronica, leaving Veronica to wonder what’s really going on. When she finds a burner phone hidden in Johnny’s clothing, she becomes certain he’s having an affair as well.

The relationships are really what this book is centered on. Like Sydney, Veronica was a daddy’s girl until she got a bit older and realized how hard her mother was working on being the responsible parent while her father carried on with other women and was the “fun” parent. This is a dynamic we come to multiple times–the tension when one parent is made to take on all the day-to-day responsibility and the other parent is fun and charismatic. It’s fascinating to explore this, but I felt like it went on too long. The first third of the book is entirely about these people and their relationships without any trace of the thriller novel this will become. I was starting to get restless by the time new information came to light. Even later in the book there’s still too much rumination and characters’ thoughts going in circles.

I had mixed feelings about Veronica. She’s incredibly needy and jumps to a lot of conclusions (like the identity of Johnny’s mistress) with virtually no actual reason for it. I understand her neediness given her background and her relationship with Johnny, but it wasn’t exactly fun to read about in such depth. Especially when she routinely freaks out on her lover just for the fact that he took more than an hour to reply to a text. I mean, people get busy. It seemed very bizarre for someone to just assume that a working adult could jump to reply at a moment’s notice. Johnny, for his part, is kind of a ditz, which was very unusual and actually rather fun.

If you don’t mind a very slow-burn thriller, this is an enjoyable one.

Content note for sex and a little bit of violence.

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