JUNE 12, 2018

High school best friends Georgina Shaw, Angela Wong, and Kaiser Brody were living their best lives. School, sports, and 7-11 Slurpies. Life took a severe left turn when sixteen-year-old Georgina, Geo to her friends, met 21-year-old Calvin James in that 7-11 parking lot. She fell for him instantly and completely. She knew the relationship was wrong. She knew he shouldn’t make her feel bad. She knew he shouldn’t be so mean to her. She knew he shouldn’t hit her. But she loved him and she thought he loved her, too.

Then one night, Angela was murdered, and buried in the woods. In multiple graves. And Geo had helped.

Fifteen years later, Geo is going to prison for her role in Angela’s death, but more victims are being found murdered in the same way that Calvin James had killed Angela. Is Calvin back again? What exactly happened that night, fifteen years ago? Why did Geo keep her secrets, when as a minor it wasn’t her fault? Geo served her five years behind bars and is now back out in the world. As she tries to adjust to life on the outside, her old friend Kaiser – now Officer Brody – is relentlessly on the trail of the returned Sweetbay Strangler, or as Geo knew him, Calvin James.

Jennifer Hillier goes deep into the descriptions of the victims and the horrors that have been committed to their person. Sometimes it proves to be difficult to read, but it does serve the story, and is in no way sensationalized. As horrific as the crimes that are being committed by the Sweetbay Strangler, JAR OF HEARTS digs deeper into the emotional damage suffered by Geo and Kaiser. JAR OF HEARTS is a relentless one-two punch: emotional trauma and physical trauma. JAR OF HEARTS is not a story for the squeamish, but it is done in such a manner that you have to keep turning the page just to find out what happens next. Indeed, as the story progresses, the trauma of the events from fifteen years ago coupled with the murder investigation today allows Hillier to raise the tension higher and higher. As this reviewer was nearing the end of the book, I found myself carrying the book from room to room in my house, but sometimes able to read only a chapter or two at a time before I had to put it down and do something else. Take a breath and then read some more. The tension was stressing me out. JAR OF HEARTS is the book that I’ll be measuring everything else by in 2018.

With JAR OF HEARTS, Jennifer Hillier has raised her game to rarified heights. This is a thriller that burrows into your brain, where it permanently lives in your subconscious. Long after you’ve turned the last page, the secrets and revelations will bob back up to the surface of your everyday life. This is a story that refuses to be finished with the reader. Every page is another layer of the past, painfully pealed back like the worst kind of wound.


Dan Malmon