Book Review: The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera

Jennifer Herrera's The Hunter is an atmospheric suspense debut that explores the dark side of a small town and asks: How can we uncover the truth when we keep lying to ourselves? Here's Doreen Sheridan's review!

After NYPD Detective Leigh O’Donnell explodes her career, her marriage and her life, she’s left trying to figure out a way to pick up the pieces and get everything back to when she used to be happy. Her brother Ronan breaks through her wine-drinking haze to offer her an opportunity investigating the unusual deaths of three young men in their Ohio hometown. She’s rather reluctant to take on a small town case—especially if it means returning to the place she’d once fled, vowing to never look back—but soon realizes this could be her best shot at getting her life back on track:

I said, “I can change people’s minds. This case can help me do it.”


I thought back to the story I’d heard a long time ago. About a cop who’d stabbed his partner. He’d been suspended. Indefinitely. Like me. But seven months later, he’d found an abducted girl in the basement of some creep’s house. She’d been missing for three years. The guy came back to the NYPD with a Medal of Honor.


I said, “I need to rebuild my reputation brick by brick. This is how I start.”

While her estranged husband isn’t thrilled at the thought of her taking their biracial daughter to stay so very far away in a very white town, she assures him that Simone will be in good hands with Leigh’s trio of uncles, who helped raise her and Ronan after their parents died. Bear, Eamon, and Frankie are happy enough to take Leigh in again and help look after Simone while Leigh settles into her new job at the local police department. But Leigh herself is quickly unsettled by her new role, as well as by how policing seems to work in Copper Falls.

For as long as she can remember, there’s been a distinct divide in her hometown’s social hierarchy. Even though she and her brother were born there, her parents and uncles have always been seen as outsiders, having moved in decades after the founding families originally staked out their city limits. Worse, everyone outside of town proper is considered to live in the Sticks, and is viewed with suspicion at best and outright hostility at worst.

The three young men who recently died were all from the Sticks, and were found drowned at the base of the waterfall that gives Copper Falls its name. Leigh’s investigations into their deaths are hampered by the poor relationship between the residents of the Sticks and the local police, as well as by the involvement of her own ex-boyfriend, a hot shot crime reporter who came back to town to look into the drowning as well. He still has feelings for her, as he’s only too happy to let her know:

“It’s not that I didn’t think you were smart enough. God, you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.”


I made my voice flippant, unlike me. “Mason Vogel,” I said, “are you trying to get in my pants?”


“Most people sense things with their intellect because that’s the only lens they’ve got. But you’ve got all these other ways of seeing. There’s something, I don’t know, something very animal about it. It’s hot.”


I set down my drink. “Okay, now I know you’re trying to get in my pants.”

As Leigh gets to the bottom of what’s happening in Copper Falls, she’ll come across legends of the Native Americans who originally lived in the area and held the ground sacred. At first, she thinks it’s all just interesting history, but as she gets closer to the truth, she’ll discover that the old myths have had a greater, deadlier impact on the present than she could have ever imagined.

Jennifer Herrera’s debut novel blends both the big city and small town varieties of police procedural with a healthy dose of domestic drama, topping it all off with just a bit of the paranormal. The Hunter is an absorbing, twisty read often propelled by Leigh’s own reckless behavior. I’m still not sure I understood her reasoning—or lack thereof—for exploding her own life in the first place, but I empathized with her history and with her need to compartmentalize her emotions. Recommended for readers who enjoy police thrillers with flawed but not entirely unrelatable protagonists.

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