The Smiley Killer by Julia Derek (Unnatural Born Killers #1)

The Smiley Killer is the first book in a new trilogy by the author Julia Derek. The story is a young adult (YA) mystery and it was refreshing to read this genre once again.

Riley is 17 and she loves watching shows like CSI and similar on TV. She is bright and has a very inquisitive mind. Her sister Cass is 12 years old, which is an age that is quite dangerous at the moment: there is a killer out there targeting 12 year old girls who are relatively similar looking, which makes Cass a possible next target. Her parents no longer leave her out of their sight and Cass is literally house bound for the foreseeable future, until the killer at large is caught.

The killer has a distinct signature: he is drawing a sad smiley face on the victim’s body (hence the book title). This particular signature will play quite the part in the story line.

Riley decides to do some sleuthing on her own and what better way to do it than asking her best friend, Alyssa, for help. The story that follows becomes quite suspenseful and at times dangerous for Riley, especially when she gets rather close to figuring out who the killer is.

Her main line of investigation takes her to the lab where Alyssa volunteers, especially when the 4th victim was found near that very lab. Could the killer be someone working at the lab itself?

The story really hooked me in and it was easy to follow Riley’s investigation and her line of though, since it was told from her point of view. Every time she found a possible suspect, I was either hoping they would be – or wouldn’t be the killer. And of course big was my surprise when the actual killer was revealed.

One of the suspects in Riley’s eyes was Mark, the hootie guy she started to date recently. No wonder since his brother works at the lab and Mark is known to go to the lab unannounced every now and then. Of course, I won’t reveal whether he was finally the killer or not, but I did enjoy reading about their romance throughout the book.

Riley had some help from other folks in her investigation as well, and it was fun to follow her interaction with the guard at the lab, who was all too eager to help. He was quite the character.

The characters in the book are well developed, their interaction is genuine and the suspense keeps the tension up throughout the book. The writing is fun, albeit now and then it felt just a bit awkward, which only added to the young adult charm of the book. Afterall 17 year olds don’t speak and think quite like the way adults express themselves. It didn’t really detract from enjoying the novel.

Overall The Smiley Killer was a fun murder mystery with plenty of suspects, red herrings and false leads to keep you guessing about the killer’s identity.

One thing is for sure – I can’t wait to get book two in the trilogy, especially when the first book left me with a strong cliffhanger that had me thinking about it for quite some time. Well done Julia Derek!


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