**4.5-stars rounded up**
Jennifer Hillier’s tense and twisty amusement park-set Thriller, Wonderland, was first published in 2015. I’ve had this on my TBR for years, but just never picked it up.
Now, for the first time ever, it is being released in audio format via Macmillan Audio. After graciously being gifted a copy by the publisher, I excitedly read it and loved it!
This story follows Vanessa Castro, the new deputy police chief of Seaside, Washington, home to Wonderland. Vanessa is a lady with a past, that is clear, but all isn’t revealed to you right away. She’s a mystery unto herself.
Vanessa has moved to Seaside, along with her two children, after the death of her husband and a corresponding scandal at her old department. Vanessa is hoping for a fresh start and her older child, Ava, is almost excited to be working at Wonderland for the Summer.
Vanessa’s first day on the job kicks off with a bang, after the decomposing body of a homeless man, dubbed Homeless Harry, is discovered on the main causeway of the park just before opening.
Who is this man? It’s clear he didn’t die in the spot where he was discovered? Why would someone deposit his body there? What’s the message?
On the same day, prior to the body discovery, a disgruntled employee, a self-proclaimed free climber, scales the Wonder Wheel and photographs himself giving the middle finger in his Wonderland uniform.
He posts the image to his socials and it goes viral. After he posted, he disappeared. What is going on at Wonderland?
Homeless Harry and the Wonder Wheel Boy all in one day. Vanessa is left scratching her head and is about to get a quick lesson in how things work around Seaside.
Wonderland is by far the largest employer in the town. Not only that, it brings in huge amounts of money as a well-known and hugely popular tourist attraction.
Because of this, the powers that be at Wonderland hold quite a bit of sway within local politics and law enforcement. While Vanessa isn’t necessarily surprised by this, she is surprised by just how deep that river runs.
I loved Vanessa. She wasn’t perfect. She has a history, she has a dark past and it’s something that she struggles with at times throughout the novel. So, even though she has a successful career and is a great Mom, she can still have her own personal demons.
To me, that kind of character is so much more believable than the main characters who are perfect in every way, have it all, and just terrible things happen ‘around’ them, but not necessarily to them, or because of them.
Vanessa Castro is the type of character I would go to bat for. I think she was great at her job and did the best she could balancing her work and home life. For that, I give her props.
I also liked Vanessa’s daughter, Ava’s, role in the story. The dynamic between them, as well as what was going on in Ava’s private life added a lot of tension to the story.
Even though they have that mother-daughter relationship and lived together, there were still quite a few secrets between them. The transition to the new town wasn’t easy for Ava. At her age, I think she was 14, almost 15, that type of move will always be rough and I thought Hillier did a great job exploring that.
Ava’s work at the park was interesting as well. She ended up working in the Clown Museum and it sounded totally nuts. Definitely something I would have wanted to do at that age.
Overall, this is an engaging Mystery, with strong Police Procedural aspects and a ton of tension. I loved the pacing of the reveals as secrets come to light and I found the setting to be eerie and interesting. I couldn’t believe how quickly this drew me in.
Additionally, the audiobook is absolutely terrific. I cannot recommend it enough. The narration by Eunice Wong brought this story to life for me. I was transported while listening to it. A++ job!!!
Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m so happy that I finally had the chance to read this one. It’s a great reminder of why I love Hillier’s work; so good!!