It starts simply enough, with a woman waiting for her chance to sidle up to a Russian rich kid at a club, slip something in his drink, and take him home in his fancy sports car. But she doesn’t steal anything—not yet at least.
Pretty Things is a story of theft and deception at its core, told from one of two perspective at any time: Nina—the aforementioned conwoman—and Vanessa, a spoiled heiress who has become an Instagram celebrity. Nina, along with her partner in crime Lachlan, decide to cozy up to Vanessa and take advantage of a cottage she’s renting next to her estate.
In high school Nina had a relationship with Vanessa’s brother Benny. Benny, who has since been institutionalized, is in limited contact with Vanessa and knows nothing about her new tenants. There’s a safe in Vanessa’s mansion, one which Nina recalls holding the tidily convenient sum of one million dollars. Nina and Lachlan need to keep up their act, find a way to get into that safe, get the cash, and use it in part to pay for Nina’s mother’s cancer treatment.
If what I just described to you feels a bit like a soap opera, that’s because it does. Pretty Things tends to lean into soap opera tropes, especially towards the end where author Janelle Brown attempts to swizzle all these elements together and throws twist after twist at you, getting to the point where it left my head spinning and my eyes rolling. To be fair, the book does maintain a tension which propels you to keep reading chapter after chapter, save for a lengthy flashback early on and the ending where things started to fall apart. The finale could have benefited from a bit more love and a bit more room to breathe.
The characters are mostly unlikeable, though I would say this was an intentional choice by Brown. Going for realistic characters is not a bad approach but injecting a bit more life into them (aside from Vanessa’s somewhat stilted #trendy monologues) might have been a good move. With that said, one or two of Lachlan’s actions later on in the story stuck out like a sore thumb. Without going into spoilers, he makes a mistake which, being an experienced conman, he should not have made. It’s something which becomes a lynchpin of the climax, and something which doing something very simple would have solved.
Brown’s writing itself is crisp and transparent, perfect for thrillers. She’s written other critically well-received thrillers as well, and it shows here. The only exception is towards the very end, where things start to become a bit choppy and rushed.
I know it seems like I’ve been “ragging” on Pretty Things, but this is one that I enjoyed until the climax. As it stands, while it’s not as strong of a recommendation as some of the other’s I’ve reviewed for the Berry, it’s still one I’d refer to if someone is asking for a fun thriller.