Book: “Just One Look” by Lindsay Cameron
Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, July 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Eyes aren’t the windows to the soul. Emails are.
Cassie Woodson is adrift. After suffering an epic tumble down the corporate ladder, Cassie finds the only way she can pay her bills is to take a thankless temp job reviewing correspondence for a large-scale fraud suit. The daily drudgery amplifies all that her life is lacking–love, friends, stability–and leaves her with too much time on her hands, which she spends fixating on the mistakes that brought her to this point. While sorting through a relentless deluge of emails, something catches her eye: the tender (and totally private) exchanges between a partner at the firm, Forest Watts, and his enchanting wife, Annabelle. Cassie knows she shouldn’t read them. But it’s just one look. And once that door opens, she finds she can’t look away.
Every day, twenty floors below Forest’s corner office, Cassie dissects their emails from her dingy workstation. A few clicks of her mouse and she can see every adoring word they write to each other. By peeking into their apparently perfect life, Cassie finds renewed purpose and happiness, reveling in their penchant for vintage wines, morning juice presses, and lavish dinner parties thrown in their stately Westchester home. There are no secrets from her. Or so she thinks.
Her admiration quickly escalates into all-out mimicry, because she wants this life more than anything. Maybe if she plays make-believe long enough, it will become real for her. But when Cassie orchestrates a “chance” meeting with Forest in the real world and sees something that throws the state of his marriage into question, the fantasy she’s been carefully cultivating shatters. Suddenly, she doesn’t simply admire Annabelle–she wants to take her place. And she’s armed with the tools to make that happen.
Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Given that Caroline Kepnes is one of my favorite authors, anything that she recommends I am going to jump all over. So when I saw that she had put a blurb on a book called “Just One Look” by Lindsay Cameron, I was definitely interested to see what it was about. If the blurb piqued my interest, the description totally reeled me in: a woman who is overseeing emails for a large fraud issue stumbles upon personal emails between a married couple, and starts to obsess about them and covet their life. Oh hell yeah, that sounds right up my alley! I figured I knew what I was in for. But boy, I was wrong. And in this instance that was a good thing.
“Just One Look” is a slow burn of a creepy tale of obsessive love and wanting, as a woman who has lost everything starts to covet a life that is laid out in front of her in emails. Cassie lost a very prestigious position at her previous firm, and her downfall was viral and well known enough that she has been reduced to humiliating drudgery. We slowly get to see just what Cassie did, and we do this as we watch her start to obsess over Forest and Annabelle Watts thanks to private emails between them that have been caught in this email review. As Cassie obsesses more and more and starts building up a narrative of their lives in her head, she starts to see herself there as well, and creeps ever closer to Forest as she pieces his life together. But I can tell you that this plot isn’t what you think it is. Cameron does a really good job of building up a lot of tension along with a very unreliable protagonist, so anything she says could be completely false, even if she doesn’t know it. I thought that this story was going to be one thing, but it took many different directions that I didn’t expect, and I really, really enjoyed being surprised at a new moment or reveal. It’s so unsettling watching Cassie seep more and more into Forest and Annabelle’s life, and Cameron yanks it so taut that it could easily snap. Especially when she pulls the rug out from under you.
But what I liked the most about this book was our protagonist, Cassie. I went into the book with some preconceived notions about how it was going to go, and just what kind of person Cassie was going to be. I mean, in my defense, since Kepnes was used as a blurb on the cover, I figured ‘okay, so it’s gonna be like ‘You’ but with a woman creepazoid’. And hey, I was here for that, don’t get me wrong! But Cameron has other tricks up her sleeves, and Cassie is a very interesting protagonist with a lot of layers. Some of those layers are incredibly sympathetic, and others are very, very disturbing. In some ways, there are definitely similarities to Joe Goldberg, but Cassie has more of a broken feeling to her, and in some ways that makes her all the creepier. But along with that, Cameron affords her some interesting exploration that female characters don’t often get. While it’s true that the things that Cassie does in this book are super, super unethical and also absolutely stalker behavior, it was kind of nice to see the background as to why she is this way, without excusing any of her behavior or making it okay. Cameron walks that fine line between romanticizing a dangerous obsessive, and making her a cartoonish caricature.
I really enjoyed “Just One Look”. It got under my skin, and surprised me in a lot of ways. Don’t sleep on this one, thriller fans! And be careful about what you put in emails that others can potentially see..
Rating 9: A slow burn of a suspense thriller with a creepy protagonist and some really well done twists!