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Strange Sally Diamond


Strange Sally Diamond

Liz Nugent, the internationally bestselling author of UNRAVELING OLIVER, LYING IN WAIT and LITTLE CRUELTIES, returns with STRANGE SALLY DIAMOND, a riveting thriller written in the vein of the works of V.C. Andrews and Emma Donoghue.

“Lots of people are interested in you, Sally. I guess you don’t realize how unusual it is to burn your father’s body.” Sally Diamond has always known that people find her strange: she is very literal, doesn’t like being touched and has inappropriate emotional reactions to things. Some have suggested that she is on the autism spectrum. Her father, a psychologist, has told her that she is just a bit odd, but definitely not deficient, no matter what her peers and bullies say.

"Nugent pens a thrilling, utterly immersive mystery that, paired with Sally’s unique, unforgettable voice, makes it a true winner."

Adopted at the age of six, Sally has lived with her parents, never making friends or traveling outside of their small town, though she earned good marks in school. Since her mother’s death, Sally has cohabitated with her father by sticking to a careful routine, which she had to expand when he became ill. Knowing his time was coming, he told her she should just put him in the trash when he expired. But he never said it was a joke.

When we meet Sally, she has just disposed of her father’s remains as instructed. When the town catches wind that he has died, an investigation ensues and Sally learns far more about herself than she ever expected. He left her a series of letters to read, one a week, after his death. But when the police start an investigation to ensure that Sally only misunderstood --- and didn’t murder --- her father, the letters become public.

As it turns out, Sally was not just adopted at the age of six; she was one of her father’s and mother’s patients, along with her birth mother, Denise, kidnapped at the age of 11 and held in captivity until a tip led the police to the home where her abductor kept her chained to a bed, abused and malnourished. At the time of her discovery, Denise was more or less feral and had never developed mentally or emotionally beyond the age of her kidnapping, but she was fiercely protective of the child she had in captivity: Mary, now known as Sally to protect her identity.

With the truth of her birth, youth and adoption made public, Sally has a lot to cope with: the death of her father, her new identity and, of course, the horrifying news of her origin story. Her birth father, her mother’s kidnapper, was never found, and Sally believes he is still out there. Then an old, well-loved teddy bear arrives with a note: “I thought you’d like to have him back. S.” Ever since the truth of her birth has come out, Sally has been amazed (along with the police and therapists questioning her) that she can't recall anything before her seventh birthday party, but she does remember this bear, Toby. It’s the only thing she ever owned and the last bit of her mother.

It seems obvious that Sally's birth father sent Toby, but then the story flips, and we learn that someone else bore witness to Mary’s birth and her mother’s life in captivity. Alternating between his story and Sally’s, Nugent weaves a riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that asks what we inherit from our parents, good or bad, and what we make of our inheritances.

Many suspense/thriller fans will remember Emma Donoghue’s novel, ROOM, which also featured a child born in captivity. While STRANGE SALLY DIAMOND carries similar themes, Nugent flips the script by introducing readers to Sally when she is already in her 40s. She has forgotten, and more or less recovered from, her unusual, traumatic birth and early upbringing. As a character, Sally is literal, quirky and often very funny, both intentionally and accidentally. As a character study, the book contains poignant observations and ponderings on growth, life after trauma and reclamation.

But it is not until the truth about the mysterious observer of Sally’s early life becomes clear that the novel really takes off. With the sudden change in pace comes yet another unknown figure: a man who takes a strange, urgent interest in Sally and the renewed investigation into her birth father’s whereabouts. You’ll have to read it for yourself to see who these characters are and what their impact on Sally’s life and recovery will be. Nugent pens a thrilling, utterly immersive mystery that, paired with Sally’s unique, unforgettable voice, makes it a true winner.

STRANGE SALLY DIAMOND is a refreshing and compelling take on abduction/captivity stories and a standout thriller in its own right. Nugent is at the top of her game here, and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 28, 2023

Strange Sally Diamond
by Liz Nugent