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Book Review: Betrayal: An Empty Coffin Novel by Gregg Olsen

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The second entry in Gregg Olsen’s Empty Coffin series of YA books has just been released, and is titled Betrayal. Like Envy, the first in the series, the story takes place in the town of Port Gamble, Washington. For those who have never heard of Port Gamble before, it is an inspired choice for a book dealing with the supernatural. The town was built in 1853, on the shores of Puget Sound, and many of the houses are designated as historical landmarks. This lends a spooky ambiance to the place, which is perfect for the plot.

In Envy, we were introduced to the twin teenage Ryan girls, Hayley and Taylor. The girls share a secret psychic ability to “feel” traumatic events, just by being in proximity to where they occurred. Betrayal begins at a Halloween party gone horribly wrong. A murder is committed in an upstairs bedroom, and nobody knows who did it. Any of the guests could be responsible, as the parents of the girl who hosted the party were away on a cruise.

Hayley and Taylor “get” conflicting clues as to who committed the crime, but these are confused with another undercurrent of interest to them. As is explained in Envy, the two are survivors of a horrible bus accident which occurred when they were five years old. What is becoming more and more clear to both though is that there was much more to this “accident” than they were told. Like an onion, the various layers of what actually happened is slowly revealed to them. In Betrayal, their pursuit of answers to this mystery almost costs them their lives.

As a true crime writer, Gregg Olsen has learned a lot about how perpetrators and their victims act. He uses these skills to great effect in crafting a compelling murder mystery, with a side of the supernatural in Betrayal. Although all of the events in Betrayal are fictitious, he explains some of his inspirations in an essay  titled “Truth in Fiction.” One big “clue” in Betrayal, (which turns out to be a bit of a red herring), is based on the famous Amanda Knox case. Much of the suspicions the French authorities had about her came from what they considered her inappropriate activity after the death of her roommate. It was a short jump for them to look at her Facebook page and deduce that she was a sex-crazed party girl who thrill-killed her unfortunate roommate.

What I find most notable about Gregg Olsen’s Empty Coffin novels (so far at least) is the fact that while they are written with the YA audience in mind, they are highly enjoyable reads for parents as well. Betrayal may not be War and Peace, but it is an intelligent, and thought-provoking book.

Mr. Olsen is a very prolific writer, and has already begun the third novel in his Empty Coffin series, Guilty. A six-page “Sneak Peek” of it is included at the end of Betrayal. In fact, much like a DVD, Betrayal has a few bonus features included, besides the Guilty Sneak Peek. These can be accessed via the free smartphone app included on the final page.

Betrayal is an excellent follow-up to Envy and opens up the story just enough to keep us interested in the varied goings on of the Ryan family, but does not give too much away. This applies to both the present and some surprising revelations about the family’s past. The book is recommended both for young adults, as well as their parents.

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