Title: Please See Us
Author: Cailtin Mullen
Published: April 1st 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Crime, Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
In this sophisticated, suspenseful debut reminiscent of Laura Lippman and Chloe Benjamin, two young women become unlikely friends during one fateful summer in Atlantic City as mysterious disappearances hit dangerously close to home.
Summer has come to Atlantic City but the boardwalk is empty of tourists, the casino lights have dimmed, and two Jane Does are laid out in the marshland behind the Sunset Motel, just west of town. Only one person even knows they’re there.
Meanwhile, Clara, a young boardwalk psychic, struggles to attract clients for the tarot readings that pay her rent. When she begins to experience very real and disturbing visions, she suspects they could be related to the recent cases of women gone missing in town. When Clara meets Lily, an ex-Soho art gallery girl who is working at a desolate casino spa and reeling from a personal tragedy, she thinks Lily may be able to help her. But Lily has her own demons to face. If they can put the pieces together in time, they may save another lost girl—so long as their efforts don’t attract perilous attention first. Can they break the ill-fated cycle, or will they join the other victims?
Evocative, eerie, and compelling, Please See Us is a fast-paced psychological thriller that explores the intersection of womanhood, power, and violence.
‘The women call to her, the shush of the wind through the grass like a whisper. Look, they try to say. Look. Look. Please see.’
Delivering a forceful look at the collision between womanhood, objectification and murder, Please See Us is a timely thriller from debut novelist Caitlin Mullen. Mullen’s first novel is a powerful provocation of violence, humanity, gender and the underclass. It is a consuming, as well as emotionally fraught tale, that will linger with you long after the final page has been turned.
Please See Us is set in Atlantic City, a place struggling to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. Atlantic City’s once thriving boardwalk is like a ghost town. A lack of tourist interest has resulted in a severe downturn in business. But it appears that crumbling Atlantic City is now the unfortunate breeding ground for a serial killer. The killer is targeting invisible women, those who society would not miss. With their bodies dumped and left to fester in marshland, no one knows where they are. For a clairvoyant named Clara, the disturbing visions she is haunted by plague her, especially when a number of women in the area go missing. When Clara is acquainted with Lily, a worker at a local casino, Clara thinks that she may finally have found the support she needs at a difficult time in her life. Together, the two women make inroads in this baffling case. Can they put a halt to this killer’s plans before more victims are taken?
It is always a gamble to take on a new and unknown author’s work to review, which was the case when I received Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen from Simon & Schuster Australia. Thankfully, not long after Please See Us came into my hands, a fellow reviewer provided a rave review for this one and encouraged me to maneuver this novel to the top of my reading pile. I’m glad I took the advice as Please See Us proved to be a compelling read.
What struck me the most about Please See Us wasn’t the serial killer investigation, it was the setting. I haven’t had the chance to take a trip over to the US, so Atlantic City is an unfamiliar locale to me. I didn’t realise that a Hurricane Sandy ripped through this area and created such devastation. Mullen does a remarkable job of bringing this locale to life, especially for international readers. Through Mullen’s descriptive writing, I became acutely aware of the economic troubles of this area, the struggling underclass, the drug abuse, poverty, abuse and the general decay of the city in a physical sense. There is also a kind of lamenting mood, as Mullen take a look back to a time when Atlantic City was once thriving tourist hub, complete with a bustling boardwalk and thriving casinos. This is no longer, giving way to a place where a serial killer can strike and go about their business, seemingly undetected. This aspect really hit hard.
Please See Us features a broad cast and I did struggle to make connections with all the voices for a good third of the book. However, once I got a handle on the protagonists that feature in this consuming tale, I was soon at the mercy of the author. Mullen takes on quite an ambitious feat in this book by incorporating lots of different viewpoints, but I think in the end it works. I did enjoy the character of Clara the teen clairvoyant, it provided a different spin on the case at hand. I also connected to Lily and her personal journey. I did expect a lot more by the way of police investigative components to this case, but Mullen chooses not to go this way with her novel.
In the end, I would say that Please See Us is much more of a slow burn style psychological study based novel than a fast paced thriller. It will have you on edge and Mullen will make you think about the social issues that are prevalent in Atlantic City. These complex issues involve drug addiction, control, power plays, poverty, gambling, marginalisation, bullying, violence, the sex trade and the systematic abuse of women. These are powerful and lasting points that will be sure to leave an impression on you, much more than the actual murder investigation presented in Please See Us.
To learn more about the author of Please See Us, Caitlin Mullen, visit here.
*I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.