Carefully planned out characters, carefully planned out plot, and carefully planned out…murder?
In my personal opinion, there is no better way to spend a day than with a casual crime novel. Not casual as in the simple “I totally know who it is, and I’m only on page 10” novels, but those with twists, turns, and unforeseen betrayal, which is exactly what Jennifer Lynn Barnes gives readers in her four-book series, The Naturals.
The series follows five teens who have a natural knack that makes solving crimes easier for them: Cassie and Dean, who can understand a scene from the criminal and victim’s perspectives, analyzing the motives and reasons behind committing the crime, Lia, who can pick up on tell-tale body gestures that signal someone is lying, Michael, who easily picks up on body language that betrays a person’s emotions at the time, and Sloane, the super-genius who can effortlessly recall facts and equations to forensically apply to the crime scenes. These teens are called, you guessed it, the Naturals (hence the title), and are specially selected by a group of FBI agents who help the Naturals hone their talents to crack cold (and occasionally, active) cases.
Although the thought of such a program is horribly unrealistic, Barnes makes up for it by creating a complicated plot with unimaginable twists and turns. As a person who normally can figure out who-dun-it within a few chapters, even I was at a loss for words as the book came to a close.
Barnes is also an expert in creating characterization. Each member of her small cast is unique in their figures of speech, humor, and body language, all of which Barnes incorporates into her books to make the characters come alive within just a few pages. Barnes manages to give snippets and hints towards each character’s tragic backstory (what made them a Natural) throughout all four novels, so that by the end, the reader is fully aware of each character’s past and what made them who they are.
And the selling-point (at least for me) is this: after every five chapters or so, a “You” chapter (normally just a page or two long) is incorporated. The “You” chapters are written in second-person from the criminal’s perspective, yet somehow the criminal’s identity still remains a mystery until revealed in the final pages, adding to the creep factor already present in the novel.
I must warn you, though, that the novels are somewhat gory, especially for more queasy readers. Although I wouldn’t say Barnes “spares no detail,” she certainly does not omit ALL gory detail. Also, the novels are filled with sudden twists and breath-holding moments that really top off the thriller vibes. It’s definitely one you shouldn’t read with the lights off! (Unless you’re like me and you like to make scary things a trillion times scarier than they need to be and in the process almost break lamps by jumping – not my finest moment, might I add.)
Anyway, The Naturals series, in my book, is one of the best chill thrillers of all time, written purely for the exhilaration, yet somehow tying the readers’ hearts to every character over the course of the four novels. So get on your library website, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or other provider of your choice and order The Naturals, Killer Instinct, All In, and Bad Blood IN THAT ORDER (because if you read this series out of order that would be the opposite of a good thing), and look forward to a weekend spent with the lamp on (or knocked onto the floor, depending on whether or not you choose to listen to my advice).