Monday, June 29, 2015


Morgan Prager is working on her master's thesis in forensic psychology. Her theory? That pathological altruism and hyper-empathy attract predators. She returns to her Brooklyn row house one afternoon to find her fiance Bennett mauled to death by her three dogs. Stunned non-responsive by the tragedy, Morgan is admitted to the hospital and her dogs are quarantined pending a hearing to determine their fate.

Once back on her feet, Morgan attempts to notify Bennett's parents of his death and discovers he wasn't everything he told her he was. In fact, he was nothing he told her he was. Fake address, fake job, fake family. The more Morgan digs, the more she begins to wonder if she isn't just like the victims she's studying, her selflessness marking her as prey for Bennett. But how? And for what purpose?

Morgan's trip down the rabbit hole of Bennett's past gets murkier and more violent as she proceeds. The layers of deceit Bennett left in his wake involve more innocent, potentially-betrayed women than just Morgan. Feeling duped, worried about what this says about her, Morgan is bound and determined to figure out just who Bennett was and why he picked her, even if it endangers her life and the lives of others. Not to mention turning her thesis on its ear.

I have to say, while I had my issues with The Hand That Feeds You, it took off like a bolt from the first page and I felt compelled to pick it up and read each day, particularly the first half or so. I was even searching social media for the blogger I knew was also reading it so I could talk to her about it. It's a unique premise with some super interesting facets to it. Unfortunately, it just didn't quite hold up for me through to the end.

My reservations are several-fold. First, for someone who lost her fiance and beloved dogs, Morgan seemed to rebound pretty damn quickly. Although she begins to realize Bennett wasn't such a great catch, she still just lost her fiance in a gruesome manner. So I was surprised at some of her behavior where men and dating were concerned. The saddle wasn't even cold and she was shining up her spurs. Maybe I simply missed the psychology at work, and lord knows I have no problem with anyone finding company or comfort wherever and whenever they want, but I couldn't make it fit.

As for the dogs, Morgan seemed oddly disconnected from their plight. Yes, she expressed her concern and angst over their well-being and upcoming hearings, but I swear I was more worried about those dogs than she was, and they weren't even mine. (Or real.) She seemed strangely accepting of the fact that she'd just lost her fiance and all three dogs, the beings around which her everyday life centered. That disconnect took me out of the story a bit as I couldn't get a handle on who Morgan was.

To make that disconnect even wider, for someone with Morgan's background, both personal and professional, she took part in some pretty risky behaviors (entirely unrelated to the investigation). I wasn't sure what to make of the inclusion of those behaviors in the story, other than to show that Morgan had little self-awareness when it came to her own life and safety, perhaps similar to the victims she was studying.

Finally, while I am a profiling nerd and love a good sociopath/psychopath story, I am not doing a thesis on the subject. Also, I don't try and figure things out as I read, I like to let the answers to the mystery unfold for me as they do for my protagonist. So I was pretty astounded that Morgan didn't make some of the connections that seemed glaringly obvious.

I feel I'm being harder on the book and the story than I mean to be. I like that the authors (Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment writing as A.J. Rich) took some risks, especially where the dog arc was concerned. The blast of an opener held me quite rapt for a good part of the book. I thought it might have been a bit tighter and held that tension a bit longer without a flashback and some forays into Morgan's personal dating life outside the case.

Because I'm interested in behavior and motivation I found myself honestly curious about who Morgan was and why she acted the way she did. The fact that it had me thinking is a good quality, but I don't think it had me musing about the right things. The dots didn't connect. Ultimately, while The Hand That Feeds You entertained me, I wasn't really satisfied with the underlying premise or how it was brought to an end.  

STREET SENSE:  I thought The Hand That Feeds You took a pretty bold premise and made a good run at it. Other than a couple of extraneous arcs, I thought the authors did a good job keeping the action going and the investigation interesting. And man, that first half is a corker. I just wasn't able to connect with it sufficiently all the way through to make it a book I would recommend without hesitation.

COVER NERD SAYS: Per usual, the cover is what initially attracted me to the book. The chopped up text and jumbled image both spoke to me. Perhaps because they both yelled "Psychopath inside!" and that's a tough one for me to resist. I actually think the cover serves the content well (probably intentionally and maybe a bit unintentionally). The story is  messed up, Morgan doesn't know who Bennett was and maybe even questions who she is, or what her life is becoming. Great cover work here.


Shannon @ River City Reading said...

This is one I've been curious about based solely on the cover, but I didn't really know anything about it. Thrillers are very hit or miss for me, so I tend to shy away unless they have pretty glowing recommendations.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

This may be mean (I know, who me?), but the more I'm on the fence about a book or it makes me want to talk through my "issues" with it, the more I want you to read it. But despite the cover, there are other thrillers I would steer you to first. I'm going to be really curious to hear what others have to say about this one. I'm still mulling it.

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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