The Naturals

First Lines: The hours were bad.  The tips were worse, and the majority of my coworkers definitely left something to be desired, but c’est la vie, que sera sera, insert foreign language cliche of your choice here.

It was definitely time for a stand-alone novel.  I love my series, don’t get me wrong, but when I have the chance to read what I suspect will be a very good stand-alone, I jump at it.

Cassie is a natural at reading people.  She can take the tiniest detail and learn everything she could possibly want to know about them.  She can tell you who you are and what you want.  But she’s never taken her talent seriously, until the FBI shows up.  They have a program for exceptional teenagers to solve cold cases.  Other teens, like Michael the emotions reader and Dean the other profiler who keeps Cassie at an arm’s length, are also part of the group.  Quickly, Cassie realizes there’s more to the program than she knows.  And the danger is very real.  When they get caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, the Naturals will have to use their abilities to survive.

With this, I was expecting a really good mystery.  Some reviews I had seen previously had described this as “Criminal Minds for Kids”.  Since I’ve never really watched Criminal Minds, I can’t really say whether that’s accurate, but I understand the sentiment behind it.

What I got was a gripping, creepy mystery.  The story is nearly always told from Cassie’s POV, but there are also short snippets every few chapters from the perspective of the killer.  Those were interesting and creepy at the same time.  I’m not kidding when I said this was a creepy read.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes has a degree in psychology, so she knows how to do this right.  I spent forever trying to figure out who the killer was and I got it so wrong.  That’s not something that happens to me very often.

The beginning moves a little briskly, quickly going over how her life was before the program before focusing most of its attention on her time in the Naturals program.  Which was fine.  I mean, the story doesn’t really do much with her time before the program.

I also want to say that Cassie’s profiling ability reminded me a lot of Sherlock.  She would look at a person’s watch or the way they dressed and make all these grand conclusions about the person in the same way Sherlock tends to do (especially in the BBC series).  That was something I rather enjoyed because I like Sherlock, but at the same time, it sort of irritated me that she assumed she knew all about a person based on just a couple of clues.

In all, I found this to be a fantastically creepy read that moved along at a good pace with good characters.  I don’t normally get creeped out by books, especially since I grew up on mystery novels, but this stuff just gets scarier the older I get.  Still, I really enjoyed it and I look forward to more novels from Barnes.

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