Tuesday , October 3 2023
The first entry in Gregg Olsen's new Empty Coffin Novels series is a winner.

Book Review: Envy (Empty Coffin) by Gregg Olsen

As the setting for the Twilight series, the upper-Northwest corner of the continental U.S. has become world-famous. But as anyone who has ever been there can attest, the area has always held a very mysterious attraction. There is something about the Olympic National Forest, and the very rich Indian heritage of the area that is highly intriguing. While Northwest writer Gregg Olsen’s latest novel Envy does not take place in a community that is quite as remote as Forks, Washington–it is about 100 miles away–the sense of the supernatural permeates it.

Envy takes place in the small town of Port Gamble, Washington. Western Washington residents broadly refer to Kitsap County as “The Peninsula,” and the county seat is Bremerton, where there is a large naval base. Port Gamble is about 25 miles north of Bremerton, but in some ways it is a young adult mystery. There is an almost palpable Stepford Wives feel to this beautiful, white-picket fence community. Every time I have driven through the town, I have always had an impression that it is just a little too picture-perfect. With all due respect to the residents, it really is a bit spooky there.

The story opens with a tragedy. The body of young Katelyn Berkley has just been discovered in the bathtub. She died of electrocution, not from a hair-dryer having fallen into the tub, but an espresso machine. Well, we are famous for our love of coffee in these parts I guess. There is no sign of foul-play, and the coroner has to decide whether to rule it a suicide or an accident. To save the family a measure of pain, her death is ruled accidental.

But Katelyn’s friends (who happen to be twins) Hayley and Taylor Ryan have questions. As is slowly revealed, the twins have a form of supernatural insight. Things come to them in dreams, and in other ways outside of the “normal” channels, and they believe that there was more to Katelyn’s death than meets the eye. Proving it is another matter however.

Gregg Olsen has written a number of true crime books, and has an excellent grasp on the details of criminal investigations. While Envy is not a true story per se, it takes some cues from the October 17, 2006 suicide of Missouri teenager Megan Meier. The heroines of Envy, Hayley and Taylor are completely fictional, and this is their first appearance in his new Empty Coffin series. Apparently he already has the second entry ready to go, as there is a “sneak peek” chapter from it (Betrayal), included as a bonus.

Some of the other bonus materials included in Envy are a Reading Group Discussion Guide, which includes some suggested questions for discussion, an interview with him, and even a free app with exclusive extras about the characters of the Empty Coffin series.

It has been a long time since I have read a YA novel, and I picked this one up mainly out of curiosity, since it takes place so close to my home. I found Envy to be a very engrossing book. The story is well-paced, and the course of events leading up to the conclusion unfold quite naturally, especially considering the supernatural elements of the tale.

Envy is a good start to this new series, and it is a book I would recommend for my own 16-year old daughter. It has everything such a story should have, without ever crossing the line and getting too graphic, or sexual. I am looking forward to Betrayal (also starring Hayley and Taylor), which is due to be published this fall.

About Greg Barbrick

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