Bloodline by Jess Lourey

Jess Lourey’s Bloodline (Thomas & Mercer, 347 pp. $15.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is a mystery/thriller set in the small town of Lilydale, Minnesota, in the peak Vietnam War years of 1968 and 1969.

If you are looking for a good mystery, Bloodline may not be for you, as it’s a thriller than a mystery, with nearly all of the elements of a Gothic horror story. The only thing missing is a spooky castle. The suspense is there, though, along with aspects of a well-crafted psychological thriller.

Joan Harken, the protagonist of Bloodline, is a journalist in Minneapolis where she lives with her boyfriend, Deck Schmidt. After she is mugged on her way home, Joan (who is pregnant) agrees to move with Deck to his hometown of Lilydale. If Joan thought that only big cities like Minneapolis were dangerous, she is in for some big surprises in little Lilydale.

Right from the start, we know that something isn’t quite right with the town and a group of its most influential citizens. Lourey—a prolific author of mysteries, short stories, and nonfiction books—pays homage to both The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby as Joan is expected to comport herself like the loving and automaton wives in her new social circle. She soon begins to suffer PTSD symptoms as a result of the attack in Minneapolis.

Desperate to regain a modicum of independence, Joan gets a job with the local newspaper and decides to investigate the unexplained disappearance of young Paulie Aandeg, who went missing in Lilydale in 1944. This part of Lourey’s story is based on actual events that took place in Paynesville, Minnesota. 

Jess Lourey

As Joan tracks down leads, she becomes more and more paranoid about her husband, his family, and their friends keeping tabs on her. As the story unfolds, Joan believes she is about to discover something of importance, but is then derailed. Multiple times.

Lourey brings up the Vietnam War several times in the book. Early on, she mentions that one reason Deck wanted to take Joan back to Lilydale was because “his dad was head of the county draft board and had the power to save Deck from Vietnam.” Later, Joan reflects on her life in peaceful Lilydale while American troops are dying in Vietnam, thinking “how ashamed she is to tune out their pain, halfway across the world.”

I enjoyed Bloodline. I am a night owl and love immersing myself in a story that will keep me up and make me jump when I hear things late at night. The parts of the book I did not like are not worth mentioning, except to say that it appeared to me that Lourey overused her Thesaurus—a noble effort to keep the reader engaged in the story, but one that was not needed. 

For those who enjoy thrillers, Jess Lourey has crafted a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and guessing until the last page. And God help you if a stray pecan falls on your roof late at night while you are buried in the depths of this book.

The author’s website is jessicalourey.com

— Charles L. Templeton

The reviewer is the author of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam