Review: Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

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☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆


About the Book:

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.

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My Thoughts:


Please See Us is told by the living and the dead. The prologue is a fabulous start to the story; it had me hooked! The unique and creative layout added to the complexity of the storytelling.  The narrative easily flowed between each of the main characters in a first- person point of view, and it was interspersed with the third-person point of view of each of the “Jane Does”.

Atlantic City is rundown and decrepit.  It is slowly dying as more and more businesses are being shuttered.  It was once a vibrant, shiny tourist destination.  The decline in tourist trade leads to an equal increase in desperation, crime and vice.  People desperate to scrape by, escape their troubles, or to get out, turn to alternative sources of income and distraction. It is through Lily, Clara, and the Janes that Ms. Mullen shows how bleak life is in Atlantic City.  The increasing dread sat on my shoulders like the oppressive heaviness of a 90% humidity day.

Lila, a Vassar graduate, has returned home to Atlantic City with her proverbial tail between her legs.  She had high hopes of getting out, making it big, and staying away.  She feels stuck and anxious, but she does have what it takes to move on.  However, she stays.  She lacks confidence and needs time to lick her wounds.  Meanwhile, there are a couple mysteries to be solved.

No one cares about the wayward women who are missing, but they desperately want to be found. They remember the people and places they left and the reasons why.  It is not until a 16-year-old clairvoyant, who mostly uses her skills to hustle tourists, begins having odd visions after a relative of a missing woman comes to her for a reading.

Abandoned by her mother, Ava is living with her aunt, Des.  Des doesn’t raise her as much as she uses her to pick pockets for things to fence or to con the tourists with Tarot card readings and fortune telling.  Ava goes by the ridiculous name of Clara Voyant thanks to Des. She, like the Janes–and the silent casino maintenance worker, have had troubled lives.  Harsh childhoods left them alone or left them choosing to escape family expectations. Whatever the reason, they are struggling to make ends meet and stay alive in the increasingly eerie, abandoned setting.


<i>“They thought they had seen everything this city could do to then, but even now they can be surprised.”</i>

Caitlin Mullen’s debut novel, Please See Us, is as much about the marginalization of women as it is a murder mystery.  Whether I liked a character or not, I found them each compelling and interesting.  I could feel their need and hopelessness.  Ms. Mullen’s scene setting is evocative; I could easily visualize the abandoned buildings and rundown boardwalk.  The story tension starts out strong but remains constant instead of increasing with the characters’ escalating fears.  Nonetheless, Please See Us is a compelling story that I easily consumed in one sitting, and can’t stop thinking about.



About the Author:  Caitlin Mullen earned a BA in English and Creative Writing from Colgate University, an MA in English from NYU, and an MFA in fiction from Stony Brook University. While at Stony Brook she taught undergraduate creative writing, served as an editor and contributing writer for The Southampton Review, and worked as a bookseller at WORD in Greenpoint. She grew up in upstate New York and the Jersey Shore and currently lives in Brooklyn. Please See Us is her debut novel. 


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