Alexa Recio de Fitch’s Triggers (Solstice, 2020) is a smartly provocative and well-crafted mystery novel. In fact, before you open the first chapter, you might want to pour yourself a cup, adjust your lawn chair or recliner, and get comfortable for a while because it’s very hard to put down. The writing is clear, crisp, and overall, well done.
One of my favorite features in the novel is the use of setting. Triggers is based in New York City and even if the reader has never been there, they may feel as though they have. Dare I say that they may even feel a bit inspired to go there, too. I was pleasantly surprised to feel so grounded in NYC (pun intended). It’s true. I enjoy stories set in familiar places and I felt a kinship with the characters. It was a treat. And I especially enjoy New York stories. To absorb the reader so early on was no easy task to pull off. It was done with intention and purpose through details, description, and characterization. Overall, a spectacular use of setting!
Keeping with this idea, much of the novel takes place in forgotten, historical places that main character Phillip Weatherly visits in his quest for inspiration. He is an amateur urban explorer. Did I mention his day job? He’s a writer. Weatherly has writer’s block and goes to literal extremes to find his muse. Recio de Fitch has done her due diligence and cultural research as the reader gets a plus one ticket to some of the most famous and infamous places in New York City history via Weatherly’s musings and late night excursions.
Here are a few of my favorites along with the subterranean subway architecture that, yes, I would love to see.
Weatherly is very interested in North Brother Island, one of the uninhabited islands in New York City harbor. Around 1900 it housed a certain Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon until her death some years later. She sounds like a nobody but to many Americans she was also known as “Typhoid Mary.” According to Weatherly, she was held responsible for spreading the typhoid disease in Manhattan and spent her life incarcerated because of it.
Did you know that Washington Park holds a monument with a secret door? (I won’t spoil where it goes or who opened it.) There’s also a green park that covers hundreds of unmarked graves from the previous century: “People just go there with their picnic blankets and their Frisbees, and they sit on 20,000 graves without a clue about what lies beneath them. It’s hilarious…” (83).
Another unknown place of interest is also coastal. Somewhere underwater, there’s a scuba diver’s treasure trove of scuttled railway cars that the city had no use for and more. After reading about these real-life places, I wondered…
Besides location, Triggers also has a cast of cool characters. These people are vivid and all seem connected or linked to one another. It reminded me of the theory of six degrees of separation from Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 short story, “Chains.” According to The Guardian, “A ‘degree of separation’ is a measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on.”
One of my favorite characters is nosy neighbor Clara, who seamlessly shifts between protagonist and antagonist. Much is revealed through her point of view. She is also a notable New Yorker to the core: “Where else in the world can you cry in front of complete strangers and have them not ask you if you are okay?” (41). Love her!
There are several other key characters to track and they each have their own points of view in an omniscient narration, allowing the reader to see and hear them, and read their character minds, too. Very helpful in a mystery story but also creating reasonable doubt as some of them are not always reliable while others are full of surprises. Regardless, Recio de Fitch’s characters are fully rounded and realized. They clearly and easily move along the pages and about their business in a realistic manner. Great detail. They do their job working in conjunction to move the plot to its climax. Recio de Fitch builds on their motivations, which are naturally to antagonize or support (sometimes both) the main character, who’s having a tough time when a killer mimics his book. Their dialogue is spot on. I think I may have bumped into one or two of them in the subway or coffee shop. Recio de Fitch takes her time building each of them with backstory and flashbacks between 2012 and 2017, curiously not always in chronological order.
Did I mention Triggers is a crime mystery?
There is a murder, a body, a great setting, and atmosphere. Loads of atmosphere. A cat-and-mouse game plays out on the pages as Recio de Fitch’s main guy, Weatherly, gets squeezed. Meanwhile, with the smorgasbord of suspects that are friends or foes, or perhaps friendly foes, readers may enjoy an interactive NYC hunt of their own to find the killer. Now you see… Now you don’t. Round and round it goes. Who done it? Somebody knows…
"Clever, well thought out, with quite a sophisticated plot line, Triggers is what happens when you marry the murder mystery with 21st century Manhattan. It has it all, the small apartments, the quizzical neighbors, and, as an added bonus, some very off-the-beaten locations that will make even native New Yorkers sit up and take notice. Ms. de Fitch has crafted a story that is full of excellent details and will certainly keep readers engaged until the very unpredictable end."
"Phillip Weatherly is a top of the charts mystery writer who is having writer’s block. He urgently needs to find inspiration; he is broke, but cannot bear to let his wife Anya know the couple’s financial situation. In Phillip’s novel, “Subterranea”, a man is murdered in an abandoned subway station. There is an identical murder in the same subway station, and Phillip ends up a suspect.
The homicide is investigated by Detective Jónsdóttir, who is burdened by a stigma.
Phillip himself has a tortuous past and is desperate to get back on track, to find inspiration for a new novel. He embarks on several urban exploration trips, which are a bit morbid and very interesting, even for those who live in NYC and know the city well. This side of the thriller is incredibly appealing - while biting my nails to figure out who the murderer was, I was taken into a journey of parts of the city that were completely oblivious to me. The story about Typhoid Mary and North Brother Island was particularly interesting in these times of quarantine, lockdowns and infectious disease. This story took me to my own private exploration of the history of infectious diseases! I don’t want to offer any spoilers - this is one book you will want to savor!
I will say though that, towards the end, the turns and twists had my head spinning and my heart pulsing like crazy.
Absolutely worth reading!"
"Excellent modern-day "Whodunit" with lots of intriguing twists and turns. Triggers has all the literary elements in place for a suspenseful read. Loved the character and setting development of the novel. The author obviously did a great deal of research to bring the characters and setting to life! I felt as though I knew the characters and their surroundings as I read. Truly intriguing and kept me guessing until the end. Agatha Christie would be proud!!"
"So much suspense, so much action and could not figure out the surprise twisted ending. The author takes you on a journey through areas of NYC that even people born there might not know existed. So much research had a thread throughout this brilliant novel. This needs to be a movie! A must read!"
"An exciting mystery novel set in current day NYC, this book is a page turner and has twists right up until the end! It is realistic and very well developed with many interesting settings throughout the storyline. Definitely a recommended read!"
"Great plot twists - kept me guessing until the end!"
"The author's way of putting together a story is original and energizing. The plot takes twists and turns that make it impossible to guess how it all turns out in the end. It's a page turner and can be finished within one or two days."
"I kept trying to guess who had done it and kept being wrong! Exciting, at times dark, and always real - the novel is a page turner exploring the ways we hide, but ultimately can’t escape our hurt. The characters were so well developed, I kept thinking about them and empathizing far after I had finished the last page. Highly recommend!"
"This novel kept me guessing with many twists and turns and the urban exploration subplot was fascinating and something that I hadn’t encountered before in fiction. Full of interesting and complicated characters. A highly enjoyable read!"
"I felt immersed in the novel right from the start with the richness of details in the scenery, and the characters who were so alive to me. I couldn’t let the book down wanting to know who had done it. What a twist I never would have guessed the ending. I am wishing there will be a sequel."
"Triggers captivated me from the first to the last page. This novel is an absolute page-turner, with a number of intriguing characters that keep you guessing through to the very end! Loved how the story was told from multiple perspectives. Very well written, and precisely plotted mystery!"
"Alexa Recio de Fitch’s debut novel is truly a suspenseful, thrilling read that everyone should snatch up! Think “Gone Girl,” “Girl on the Train” vibes set in NYC with plot twists that will have you flipping pages at light speed."
"I had the pleasure of reading the manuscript prior to publication. This novel is a page turner. You will be surprised at each turn. Alexa takes you through the depths of an unseen/forsaken world that will keep you guessing to the end. A must read..."