Monday, March 30, 2020

Daniel reads THE HERD, by Andrea Bartz

Networking. Remember when you could go to a mixer? Reading a thriller based on a coworking space almost seems nostalgic, right? That’s how I felt when I started The Herd, the entertaining second thriller from Andrea Bartz, after 2019’s The Lost Night, which is now out in paperback. Click to read a staff pick from Boswell’s Chris Lee.

At the center of this story are two sisters, Hana and Katie Bradley. Katie’s a freelance journalist, who has just returned to New York after a stint in Kalamazoo, where she was both caring for her mom during cancer treatment and investigating a story about a fake news lab. Her profile even led to a book contract. Her older sister works for her dear college friend, Eleanor Walsh, who struck it big, first with Gleam, a line of insta-friendly cosmetics, and then with The Herd, or should I writer HERd, a female-friendly coworking space. Katie, Hana’s younger sister, might have only gone to NYU, but she’s part of the crowd too, if but as a tag-along.

Together with Mikki the designer, also a Harvard buddy, they’ve broken through together. But Eleanor has a lot of secrets and isn’t exactly generous with spreading the financial windfall. All four friends have enough secrets to start a deodorant empire. And Eleanor’s got one more up her sleeve, a big announcement planned for a few days from when the book starts. But then something happens, and it turns out that this reveal is the least of the group’s problems.

The Herd is told from alternating perspectives of Hana and Katie. They are sisters, true, but Hana is adopted and distant from her divorced mother. Katie is the miracle baby who came along a few years later, and closer to her mom than her uncaring dad. Hana also deals with a fair amount of prejudice, what with her mixed-ethnicity background. As the story unfolds, more characters with murky pasts appear, including Eleanor’s cool husband Daniel, her high school boyfriend Cameron, and Cameron’s brother Ted, Eleanor’s right-hand tech guy.

The story’s setting is making-it-in-New-York lavish, but the themes are classic psychological suspense in the vein of Lori Rader-Day and Mary Kubica. In addition to the secrets, it’s all about the relationships, and one thing I’ve noticed in this genre is the friendships between women are almost more important than the traditional romantic relationships. And one other thing  that caught my attention – while the genre has a different veneer, at The Herd's heart is a feuding sisters story, as was the case for so many books I read in 2019. Not exactly feuding – more like seething, below the surface anger.

At the same time that Bartz effectively uses this world for the thriller, she also pokes holes in their self-righteousness. How oppressed can you be when you're immersing yourself in the luxe life? And can you really call out privilege while you're sitting on a throne? And yet, there are plenty of obstacles for these women to overcome, which is why there is much suspicion cast at the Antiherd, the loose-knit men's group that objects to a female-only space. Oh, and if you're wondering - female presenting, in this case. So yes, to trans-women, but I guess no to trans-men? I didn't read the bylaws.

Critics chime in. From Christine Tran at Booklist: "This fast-paced, irony-strewn blend of ruthless ambition, jealousy, and buried secrets is guaranteed armchair escapism." And from Publishers Weekly: "Though too many last-minute twists muddle an otherwise satisfying ending, Bartz is especially astute at highlighting the hypocrisy of glamorous careerist feminism. Readers won't want to put this down." Daniel counters, "Is there such a thing as a thriller with too many twists? Shouldn't the experience be like an intellectual roller coaster?"

Here’s one last Easter Egg for Milwaukeeans. For Mocktail Mondays, The Herd brings in a hot bartender to make the drinks, and at one point in the story, the bar is The Elm Grove. Guess what Milwaukee suburb is home of the author’s mom?

The Herd is currently on Boswell’s Best and will stay there through at least April 13. One day we’ll have a program with Bartz, either at Boswell or the Elm Grove Library. Buy your book now, read it in advance, and you won’t have to worry about any spoilers at the event.

(Photo credit: Kate Long)

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