Hello Again by Brenda Novak is the second book in the Dr. Evelyn Talbot series.
Evelyn Talbot is obsessed with stopping serial killers. So obsessed that she’s created an entire facility—Hanover House in Alaska—where serial killers can be studied physically and psychologically in the hope that the insights gained can save lives down the line.
It’s a noble goal, but there’s a personal tragedy underneath Evelyn’s work that drives her. When she was 16, her high school boyfriend, Jasper Moore, kidnapped, tortured, and killed her friends. Evelyn managed to escape, but the experience affected her greatly. Unfortunately, Jasper also escaped and has been free to kill again, re-appearing in the second of the Hanover House books, Her Darkest Nightmare. She gets away a second time, but so does Jasper, and he’s on the loose in this book.
As Hello Again opens, Evelyn is beset from all sides: by her fear of Jasper—who she knows will eventually come for her—by harassing phone calls from a former colleague who she had to fire for sexual harassment, and by the serial killer who’s just arrived at Hanover House claiming to be innocent, Lyman Bishop. If she can get Lyman to talk, Evelyn can provide some peace to the families of his victims whose bodies have never been found. But that means walking through her worst fears every day.
One element of her life that is going well is her growing love for her live-in boyfriend, Alaskan State Trooper Sergeant Amarok. As she grows to trust Amarok more, their sex life (scarred by her torture and kidnapping) grows more varied and passionate, and she begins to think, for the first time, about a long-term relationship.
But the serial killers, especially Jasper, are not done with her. In fact, Bishop seems to like toying with her, as in this first encounter:
“You have beautiful eyes, but I’m sure you already know that.”
Evelyn stared placidly through the Plexiglas that separated her from Lyman Bishop. “Thank you.”
“What color are they?”
Determined to play along rather than have him perceive her as critical or sensitive, she allowed him to say what he wanted to see where it might go. “Hazel.”
He squinted as he leaned forward. “I thought they were green. It’s difficult to tell from here.”
For good reason. … The separation accomplished by the Plexiglas kept her safe. “They look lighter some days than others,” she told him.
“With those thick eyelashes and long-dark hair. … What a nice combination.”
“Is that why you wanted to meet with me? To compliment me on my appearance?” she asked.
He chuckled, then sobered so quickly she almost thought she’d imagined his levity, which didn’t fit the situation in the first place. “Does it surprise you that I can’t stop thinking about you?”
This is a dark book, but its darkness draws more from the emotions that it delves into rather than the overt violence. And none more so than in the chapters from Jasper’s POV—not because he thinks about murdering people but because his brain is so sociopathic and focused on harm. Similarly, it’s a breath of fresh air in Amarok’s chapters, as he’s far more well-adjusted and less traumatized than Evelyn, who narrates the largest portion of the book.
Evelyn’s POV, however, is a mix of darkness, fear, determination, and love. It’s not easy to love Evelyn, but it is easy to understand her. In this book, her obsession with saving people from what she went through is almost pathological—much like Batman’s need to put on a bat costume and fight crime to prevent anyone from being orphaned as he was. She does sometimes push the rules in her search for answers, which can lead her into mistakes and makes her more of a target than ever.
The main plot of the book deals with her attempts to create a rapport with Lyman so he can confess his crimes and reveal the location of the body of one of his victims to provide the woman’s pregnant sister with answers about her death. It’s an eerie give and take, but the suspense increases when new evidence in the case points to Lyman’s innocence.
Is Evelyn wrong to trust her instincts that he’s a killer? Was she wrong not to see the darkness in the man she fired in the last book, who refuses to take “no” for an answer in this one? All this makes her doubt herself even as danger is closing in on her friends and family.
The doubt, rather than any specific action sequence, is what drives the suspense of Hello Again and makes it a page-turner. Even in her personal life, the doubt of whether she should fall in love makes the scenes between Evelyn and Amarok tense; it’s clear the two of them are in love but unclear what their future holds.
However, I did have some issues with the book. The overall premise of Hanover House—the study of serial killers—means that the population of those rarest of killers is quickly overloaded. By the end, there have been two, perhaps three, serial killers personally obsessed with Evelyn. That strained its credulity for me. There’s also the question of whether Hanover House is welcome in Hilltop, Alaska, given that a beloved resident of the town is murdered near the end. To some extent, they’re not wrong—the residents of Hanover House have been a danger.
The earlier books have addressed the tension between the town and the mission of Hanover House, and that tension looks to rise in the next book. I like the direction, though I'm not sure how long Novak can maintain this premise, especially if villagers keep getting murdered. Perhaps the next book will feature a conclusion to the Jasper storyline.
Which brings me to the last point: without giving too much away, those looking for a satisfying ending may have to wait until that next book. While the Bishop plot is resolved, there is a major plot thread/cliffhanger that’s teased at the end of the book that will have fans of this series saying, “Next one, no, please!”
Or, conversely, it may leave readers feeling a bit unsatisfied at having to wait for a conclusion. It all depends on your point of view.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek, and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.