Book Review: Open House

Title: Open House
Author: Katie Sise
Genre: Mystery, Thriller

What it’s about: Ten years ago, Emma McCullough disappeared at a party in the woods near Yarrow College. Everyone who knew her gave statements that they saw her leave the party alone, and the police believe her to have committed suicide. In present day, Haley McCullough gets a call to come to the police station and she wonders what it is about while she works on the cadaver in her medical school, whom she names Susie. After class is over with her professor, Dr. Brad, she heads over the the police station, where she is introduced to Detective Rappaport, who in turn takes her to his own office. There, she sees her mom, and Rappaport gives both of the women the information that Oscar Hernandez, a student from Yarrow University, found Emma’s bracelet at the site of the party. Haley confirms that it is her sister’s bracelet because she remember Emma showing it to her, and telling her that she can’t tell her who it’s from.

Haley then meets with Josie and Noah, a married couple, both of whom were really close friends with Emma. They are now real estate agents and they are helping her and her fiancé, Dean, find a new home. Josie tells her about an open house on Carrington Road, and Haley agrees to meet with them the day of the open house at 11am.

Priya is anxious and prone to panic attacks. She was an art teacher when Emma was alive, and is currently married to Brad. She gets a message from Josie, who used to be her student as well, that she wants to meet with her early in the morning the following day at an Open House–on Carrington Road. She has indulged Josie’s conversations in the past because of Emma, her theories on what really happened. The following morning, she heads over to the house on Carrington Road, being closely followed by Haley and Dean. They find Brad at the house, and let themselves into the home through the shoveled stairs at the door. The house is absurdly empty, and ultimately the four of them find Josie stabbed and on the floor. They manage to save her life between Dr. Brad and Haley, and she is taken to the hospital where she is ultimately questioned. The four visitors are also taken to the police station in separate cars and questioned as well.

Ten years ago, on the night of Emma’s disappearance, Emma had gone to the bathroom to take a pregnancy test, which turns to come out positive. She knows exactly whose baby it is, and she goes over to Brad’s home to end the relationship with him, only to encounter a very pregnant Priya and runs away before she Priya starts questioning her. Except Priya realizes that Brad has been cheating on her with Emma by the look on Emma’s face. Emma texted Brad instead to end the relationship, and hops into Noah’s car with Josie–who by this point knows that Emma is pregnant. Josie teases Emma indirectly about the pregnancy, knowing full well that it is Noah’s baby, by talking to Noah about his semester abroad in Australia, which would happen in another 9 months. When they arrive to the location of the party, Emma tells them to go ahead, while she responds to Brad’s texts. She also calls her father back after their argument where she accused him of cheating on their mother. He never picks up–a guilt that he carries with him into the present day. She meets up with Brad, they talk, and also wrestle over the pregnancy test because she doesn’t tell him right away that it’s not his.

Coming back into the present, Haley visits Josie a couple of times to question her about the incident, and the second time she finds Noah and Dean in her room, which surprises her because she didn’t know that Dean knew Josie well. It then comes out that Emma was pregnant, and that Josie hid the pregnancy test in their home, telling the police officers where to find it. She claims that Brad is the father of the child, but Haley doesn’t fully believe it and questions whether Noah could have been the father as well. Also, she instinctually knows that Dean is hiding something. Later that night, Brad gets arrested for the murder of Emma and the attempted murder of Josie, since he was the first one there and Josie stated that he was the one that stabbed her. Haley doesn’t fully believe that Brad was the one, and her mistrust is further raised when a police officer takes Dean away for further questioning.

Ten years ago at the party, Emma finally makes it to the lot, and sees Josie sitting on Noah’s lap. She asks to speak to him alone, and they go to the ledge where all those years later, her bracelet was found. He confides in her that he wants to be with her, and she tells him that she is pregnant with his child. Josie walks in on them talking, and the three of them return to the party, which now has more people than ever. She stays for a bit, and then decides to leave, fall into Chris–Josie’s stepbrother–but refusing to talk to him. Dean comes up to her and asks to talk, so they head back to the ledge, and he asks her about Josie. Emma tells him the truth–that Josie has been stringing him along, and that she’s been lying to everyone, which is what he had assumed. Dean thanks her and leaves her alone on the ledge, heading out of the party.

In present day, Haley goes to see Dean at the police station. He reveals to her that he was seeing Josie back in college, and he spoke with Emma the night that she died. He also tells Haley that he has been speaking with Josie over the years, because of Emma, and Josie’s theories about what happened. He met up with Josie recently because the police told Josie about the bracelet, and she kept asking him if he remembers Emma wearing the bracelet that night. He didn’t really recall the bracelet until he saw it, when re realized that Emma wasn’t the one wearing it–Josie was wearing it that night. At that point, Detective Rappaport takes Haley out of the room, to talk. They don’t have enough information to determine that Josie was the one that killed Emma; there’s no evidence, nothing that points to it, and the pregnancy test does have Brad’s DNA.

When Haley is back in the classroom with Susie’s body, she stabs her knife in the same location that Josie was stabbed, and realizes that Brad couldn’t have done it–it was something that was easily researched online, and it’s not a fatal cut. This was done deliberately to make it seem like Josie was stabbed with the intent to kill, but Josie never was in any real harm. This gives the detective enough information to go talk to Josie.

Ten years prior, Emma was sitting alone on the ledge, when Josie comes out of the bushes. An argument starts about how Emma is taking everyone away from Josie–how Emma promised that Chris was off limits but that she kissed him anyways, and that there is no remorse; how every guy that Josie likes Emma ends up liking too. And then Josie pushes Emma over the edge. She immediately starts freaking out, but Emma is still alive, just her body is broken. Josie tries to go get some help, looking for Chris. Instead, Noah is the one that helps her. Noah tells Josie that Emma is dead and shoos Josie away. Emma tells him that she’s here, and he says that he knows, but wouldn’t it be easier if she wasn’t? And then he places her body in the river.

Josie reveals everything to the Detective and to Haley about Emma’s disappearance. She claims she was the one that killed Emma, but when the Detectives question her further, she is left wondering if Emma was still alive when Noah came to help and if he was the one who truly killed her. Their marriage completely deteriorates in court, for all to see.

Few years go by, and Haley comes to town for a visit. Priya has separated from Brad, and started painting again. She is in the cafe, and meets up with Dean and his wife, Sarah, who now have a girl of their own–Grace. After the secrets were revealed, Haley could no longer stay with him, but she approves of Sarah and loves Grace. After she graduated medical school, she became a forensic examiner and works in New York City on cases, which are then well reported and known. In the end, things worked out, though Haley continues to miss Emma, but believes that Emma’s death brought her to her urgent work, finding the truth for the victims of homicides and other crimes.

My Verdict: It’s a solid story, and it was engaging enough for me to keep reading, but I feel like halfway through the story I was already convinced that it was either Josie or Noah that were the killers–so I wasn’t as surprised to find out that they kind of both went hand in hand. I think it was the fact that they got married after his return from Australia and how they both quit their degrees to do real estate–it’s almost like they got married out of a pact of secrecy.

One of my biggest peeves with story is that Josie’s reasons for killing Emma are very week. Truthfully, she didn’t really kill her or intended to do so–Josie really wanted to just scare Emma by pushing her, and it was too dark for them to see how close to the ledge Emma was. But I still think that her actions were very unlike an individual of her age that was just drunk. Noah also doesn’t really have a motive besides the fact that Emma was pregnant–he didn’t really have to kill her by putting her in the water for that reason. Many people in life go on without taking any part in a pregnancy, so if Emma wanted the kid, she could have kept it, while Noah just went on with his life. But in my opinion, he was more premeditated than Josie in his actions of moving Emma into the water. I also can’t believe that so many people lied about things that happened that night. So this makes the story a little less believable for me.

Overall, it was an okay story, but not one that I would recommend reading.

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