Book Review: Spring Girls by Karen Katchur
By John ValeriJune 24, 2020
Spring Girls by Karen Katchur is the third book in the Northampton County series, which follows Detective Geena Brassard as she enlists the help of Janey Montgomery, the Strangler’s only surviving victim, to stop the killer before they strike again.
Karen Katchur is an award-winning suspense novelist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a master’s degree in education, and once did an internship in a district attorney’s office. Katchur’s first two books, The Sisters of Blue Mountain and The Secrets of Lake Road, were classified as women’s fiction but contained elements of mystery. In 2018, she made the transition to full-on suspense with River Bodies—the first in her Northampton County series for Amazon’s mystery/thriller/true crime imprint, Thomas & Mercer; Cold Woods followed in 2019. The saga is connected by its setting (the Pennsylvania mountains) and cast, who alternate between primary and periphery figures throughout the books, and continues with Spring Girls this June.
The story opens with the discovery of a body: 23-year-old collegiate Valerie Brown, the third known victim of a killer (dubbed “The Strangler”) who has been asphyxiating young women and leaving their remains in bodies of water throughout the northeastern PA landscape. Collectively, they’re known as the Spring Girls—their moniker in reference to the assailant’s seasonal proclivities. Detective Geena Brassard has been on the case for years, first with her recently retired mentor, Albert Eugenis, and now with her new partner, Parker Reed. But Geena is in possession of one salient fact that has yet to be divulged: seven years ago, a woman survived—and she may be their best chance at stopping the killer before he strikes again.
Janey Montgomery has spent years trying to put the trauma of her rape and near-drowning behind her. She lives a quiet life, working at the local craft store and caring for her 6-year-old son, Christian. She sees a therapist to quell her own anxiety and has also enlisted the aid of Carlyn Walsh (Cold Woods) to work with Christian, who is emotionally distant and prone to acts of aggression. His outbursts seem to be escalating, and the appearance of Detectives Brassard and Reed—who suspect the truth of his parentage—further threatens to dismantle their tenuous existence. Janey is fiercely protective of her son yet also feels a responsibility to the other Spring Girls who didn’t escape with their lives. But what will be the cost of doing the right thing?
The narrative alternates perspectives, primarily between Geena and Janey, with occasional flashback scenes and observational vignettes from therapy sessions interspersed throughout; each adds to our understanding of how past events influence present-day circumstances—both in terms of character motivation and investigative inquiry. Katchur skillfully drops one surprising revelation after another, slowly unraveling a twisted plot that should satisfy readers. But at its core, this is the story of two resilient women learning to trust their own instincts and escape the shadows of their histories (and the men who haunt them). Consequently, spring—which has become synonymous with death under the reign of “The Strangler”—may yet be reclaimed as the season for rebirth and renewal.
Spring Girls marks another impressive step forward for Karen Katchur, whose trajectory has been steadily on the rise. The mystery itself is gripping, but it’s this in combination with vital characters and a potent sense of place that makes the book an overall standout. You don’t have to have read the series’ previous entries to enjoy this one—but I can promise you one thing: by the end, you’ll wish you had!