When Julie Barenson’s husband Jim died, he decided to help her carry on with her life. He wrote her a lovely letter, telling her of his desire for her to be happy again. With his letter he sent a Great Dane puppy to her as his last gift.
Seven years later, Julie still lives in her marital home. She has adapted and moved on, and lives a happy and peaceful life with her dog, Singer, and close friends. She is finally ready to move on, and starts dating. Her first few attempts are disappointing, so when she meets Richard Franklin, and he is everything she hoped for, she seems to be very happy. Her feelings fizzle towards him, but his develops strongly. The one night he leaves a note at her door, making Singer go berserk, only to tell her that he needs to go out of town for a few days.
On the background, her close friend Mike struggles with his feelings towards her. He tries to be happy she is finally ready to move on, but he doesn’t seem able to get a liking towards Richard – especially since Richard seems to rub Mike’s face in it every time Richard and Julie show up somewhere. When a construction worker under Richard’s management leaves cryptic hints about Richard’s temper at the garage Mike co-owns, Mike realises that it is his duty to tell Julie, even if they are only friends. He refrains from telling her for a short while, especially when Julie starts realising that Mike might very well be the person for her.
When Richard returns to town and Julie tells him that she isn’t interested in a relationship with him, he seems to take it well. He tells her he went out of town to sit with his dying mother during her last moments, and Julie lets him sleep on her couch because he is so upset. She decides not to tell Mike, because by her reasoning nothing happened and she knows he would be hurt because he had a girlfriend cheat on him before, causing insecurities.
The reader switches over to Richard’s life, and things seem definitely off. Horribly abused as a child, Richard became twisted emotionally, finally turning into the same man he despised in his father. Richard finally killed his father, passing it as suicide. He eventually killed his mother as well, when she turned into an abuser as well. In foster care he seriously beat up two older kids, not hesitating to stab himself with a knife to put substance to his claim that he was protecting himself. He starts mixing his deceased wife and Julie up, and the similarities are troubling.
When Julie runs into Richard at the grocery store, she gets upset when he asks her out again. She tells him in very clear terms she’s not interested, and walks away. That night, she starts receiving typical stalker phone calls – silence on the other side when answered. It happens repeatedly the first night Mike stays at her house, and then frequently after that. On a trip with Mike, his brother Henry and Henry’s wife Emma, Julie notices someone looking at them through binoculars. She realises it is Richard, and finally tells Mike what is going on. That night, while Mike is helping out as a member in a band, Richard appears in the bar where he is playing. Mike snaps, and physically attacks Richard. Richard acts defenceless and shocked, and threatens legal action against him. The main investigating officer, Pete Gandy, is a complete moron, choosing to look at his muscles rather than realising how scared Mike and Julie is. His partner, new police officer Jennifer Romanello, is irritated by his perpetual idiocy, and takes Julie and Mike seriously. She starts investigating Richard secretly, though none of his information makes sense to her.
The situation becomes more puzzling when Emma spots Richard and a co-worker of Julie, Andrea, in another town together. She calls Julie and tells them she saw them kiss. Julie hopes this is a sign that Richard will leave her alone. The following day, when Andrea doesn’t show up at work, they think it is because of her habitual bad work ethic. Officers Gandy and Romanello respond to a call where a driver saw something on the road looking suspicious, and they find Andrea unconscious, beaten up on the road. The police finally take the situation seriously when Richard almost drives over Officer Gandy, and thousands of photos of Julie are found in his house.
Julie and Mike flee town, hiding at Henry’s beach house. Richard realises this, and changes his appearance to prevent arrest. He patiently waits for someone to lead him to their hideaway, just like he did with his wife Jessica. He finally gets to the beach house, following the police car carrying Gandy to be protection to Julie.
At the police station, officer Romanello continues searching for information about Richard. She follows up on his references on his CV, also which makes no sense. Every employer of Richard Franklin claims he was a lovely man, obviously gay. Romanello finally makes a breakthrough when she finds that the real Franklin has been missing, and that he had his identity stolen. She finally finds his true identity – Robert Bonham, a police suspect for the disappearance of his estranged wife Jessica.
At the beach house, Julie lets Singer run on the beach. He is poisoned by Richard/Robert, and when Julie frantically start searching for Singer, Richard attacks Officer Gandy and Mike. With Singer dying, Julie flees from Richard. He catches up to her, and when he finally starts to lose his grip on reality, Singer attacks Richard, defying all odds and fighting against the poison. Officer Romanello, who realised Richard had figured out their location, kills Richard when he tries to kill Julie.
This is a great book. It is so different from the books usually written by Nicholas Sparks (they are great as well). The terror and suspense creeps up on the reader, and when you finally notice it you are in a fully-fledged drama. Sparks’s characters are always so well developed and real. There is nothing unrealistic about them – they can be real people living next to you. Richard is terrifying villain The glimpse into his life and insanity is terrifying. He always writes emotional books, and this one is just the same in that way. I was bawling my eyes out at the end.