As psychological crime thrillers go, Jar of Hearts (Allen and Unwin Books 2018) by Jennifer Hillier is the epitome of high stakes, page-turning, suspenseful, taut, complex and satisfying writing. A knotted and twisty plot that goes backwards and forwards in time is enhanced by deliciously creepy and secretive characters.

The story is from the protagonist’s perspective but as the book develops, we discover that she has been deliberately keeping back details that, when subsequently revealed, change the whole convoluted narrative. This is achieved by the author with expert skill and craftsmanship, so that the reader follows innocently along a certain path, believing things to be a certain way, before being tripped up by obstacles, forks in the road, or new information that was relevant all along but has only just become obvious. The last few chapters contain so many unexpected twists that I just did not see coming.

The subject matter is disquieting and uncomfortable. Geo’s best friend disappeared when she was a teenager. Years later, her first love was discovered to be a serial killer, which is even more terrifying now that he has escaped and is on the run. New bodies turn up with the same MO as her previous boyfriend, with the increasingly apparent awareness that he is making his way back to Geo, one murder at a time. Or at least, this is what we are led to believe. Unreliability and surprises are a given in this genre and especially in this particular book.

Hillier gives her full attention to the creation of all the major and minor characters, with authentic dialogue and realistic scenarios. We see Geo as an adolescent, and can relate to her as much then as later when she has undergone many changes (both good and bad) in life, and she is older, much more hardened and less naïve. The alternating timelines are handled deftly and do not at all jar. The ending is surprising in both its shocking revelations and cruelty, and its compassion.

Jar of Hearts canvasses themes such as murder, adoption, parenthood, friendship, loyalty and intergenerational trauma. It interrogates the innocence and vulnerability of youth, and the bad choices young people make through a lack of support, information or experience. The results of those decisions may come back to haunt them years later. Strap yourself in for an exciting ride with this gripping and riveting thriller.