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Review: Ellen Gable's 'Stealing Jenny'

The cover of Stealing Jenny

So, where does one begin with Stealing Jenny-- a thriller written by a member of the Catholic Writer's Guild?

The setup is quick and painless, and the characters are established in short order. Jenny Callahan has an interesting life. She has five children, with one due in a week. She and her husband have no money problems, only the issues that come with five children. They're in a nice, loving relationship, where they're biggest problem is her mother-in-law.

Then Jenny gets kidnapped by a total psycho who wants her child for herself, and we're off to the races.

Stealing Jenny is actually not a bad thriller. It's tightly written, nice and tense, complete with character studies, personal histories, and one of the better bad guys I've seen in a while. There isn't a single car chase or fight scene, but the story doesn't suffer, even though it decidedly lacks the action usually stuff into the standard thriller.

This was fun for several reasons. One, it has a nice, well-developed family, with its own quirks, personality traits, and history. We see a neat character arc in Jenny's relationship with her high school love, the development as the antagonist and how she got that way, and even the detective has her own distinctive voice. The villain also has her own character arc of evil.

Growing up, my father always had a soft spot for David Mahmet. We would never keep one of his films, but we always appreciated them. And my father always loved House of Games because the con man in question -- played elegantly by Joe Mantegna -- was an unrepentant bastard right up to the end. It's not something we see much anymore.

One of the nice things about this book is the primary antagonist, Denise. As noted, Denise has kidnapped Jenny for the sole purpose of stealing her unborn child. Unable to conceive, instead of adopting, Denise figures, quite simply, that Jenny has more than her fair share of children, and that Denise *deserves* the one Jenny is carrying.

Now, is Denise insane? Maybe. Is she creepy as Hell? Yup. She is also stone cold evil. Nothing matters but herself. When kidnapping Jenny, she tied Jenny's toddler to a sign post with a dog collar and leash, and I was half expecting her to kill him if she heard him crying for a few more seconds. She's not overly violent, there are no schemes to take over the world, though diabolical is a mild way to describe this creature from the black lagoon. Total nut job? Maybe. Evil? Hell yes. There have been vampires that were less of a blood-sucking monster than Denise.

And even though the author, Ellen Gable, is one of the key members of the Catholic Writers Guild, there is no touchy-feely ending at the end of the book. Is there a moral to the story? One can read a moral into it -- most of the reviews online refer to it as a "pro-life" novel, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. It's not preachy or pushy, or particularly loud in its beliefs. The family is Catholic, but they're not saints, and when faced with an implacable evil, they must all come together or fail miserably. Is there forgiveness and redemption? After a fashion.

At the end of the day, this was a solid thriller, up there with anything written by Jeffery Deaver or Lee Child.

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