Book Review of The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling
Author: Iris Johansen
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
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The back cover of "The Ugly Duckling" asks: "If fate suddenly made you more beautiful than you ever dreamed possible, would it be the beginning of a fairy tale, or your worst nightmare...?" However, that rhetorical question does not even come close to scratching the surface on this thriller by Iris Johansen because by the time Nell Calder is transformed into a beautiful swan she is already living a horrible nightmare. As a little girl it was pounded into Nell's head by her mother than she was never going to be the swan, always the ugly duckling. As an adult Nell is married to a handsome executive and has a four-year old daughter, but the doubts are always there. Then there is an attack on a party at which her husband and child are killed and Nell is horribly scarred. Yes, she emerges as a stunning beauty, but inside is that creature of doubt, transformed not so much by the amazing surgery but by the brutality of events.
If this is a fairy tale then Johansen is clearly writing a very grim fairy tale. Because Nell was not just an innocent bystander, she was a target of the attack and the killer is still after her. As much as Nell would like to know why this is still happening to her, the more primal part of her sees the opportunity not just to fight back but to claim revenge for her loved ones and finally get back at those nagging voices her mother put inside her brain. With her new face, Nell has effectively disappeared from the killer's radar. But then she figures out that the only way to catch the killer is to let him think he has caught her.

Surely this book is in development somewhere off in Tinsel Town with actresses fighting over the role and trying to figure out how they will make themselves look like the "before" Nell. I like a story of revenge as much as the next person and this one delivers just desserts to all of the characters. "The Ugly Duckling" is not great fiction, but it is a first class, fast moving thriller where the psychological dimensions of survival are given as much play as the physical. Of course, if you stop and think about it, most fairy tales have their nightmarish aspects, so maybe that back cover blurb was not off as much as we might have thought.