Helen Grant – Urban Legends

helengrant-urbanlegendsA group of story-tellers are disappearing one by one.

A young woman is haunted by her past.

A serial killer has one target he is desperate to hunt down.

Veerle is trying to lie low, to live as ‘normal’ a life as she possibly can. But when you’ve thwarted a serial killer, it’s hard to do this. Especially when he wants revenge . . .

Urban Legends is the final instalment in Helen Grant’s Forbidden Spaces trilogy. When I started reading the series I was wondering how her writing would translate to a longer series instead of the standalone stories she’d written so far. It worked quite well, with separate mysteries in each book, but a central story arc that is wrapped up in Urban Legends. Due to the nature of the series and this being the final book, spoilers for the previous books are unavoidable, so you have been warned. 

In Urban Legends Veerle is back in her home town after a year in Ghent, determined to get her life back on track and retake her final year of secondary school at her old school. Veerle is changed. She’s no longer the teenager we met in Silent Saturday, she’s grown into a young woman who is no longer convinced of her own immortality and while not completely cured of her adventurous streak, she’s grown to be far more cautious. This caution doesn’t just stretch to the risks she takes physically, it also means she’s more protective of her heart. While officially still together with Bram, she knows her feelings for him aren’t as strong as his are for her and she is not sure whether she can be his girlfriend, especially since she can’t get Kris off her mind after the events of Demons of Ghent. However, she doesn’t make any split decisions, instead going back and forth on what and who she wants. Yet, when she makes her mind up early in the novel, she does so with conviction, even when things get complicated by circumstance.

In many ways Grant brings the series full-circle with Urban Legends; we’re back in the place we started, even revisiting some familiar haunts, and the murder that is hunting Veerle and Kris is eerily familiar. The Hunter seems to have returned from the dead to finish what he started in Silent Saturday, with Veerle’s adventures in Ghent in the second book being more of a side-step than a straight-on sequel to the previous book. One could even argue that Urban Legends is far more closely linked to Silent Saturday than Demons of Ghent. You can certainly read Urban Legends without having read Demons of Ghent, but not without having read Silent Saturday.  Not only do we get the true answer to who killed the Koekoeken in the first book, we also learn what exactly happened all those years ago on that faithful Silent Saturday when Veerle first met Kris and they saw a murderer from the bell tower. The way Grant resolves these was ingenious and very well conceived. Veerle and Kris’ investigation was exciting and I loved the people they visit in its course, especially Mrs Willems.

The story’s circular frame is echoed in how the narrative is structured. Veerle’s point of view is interspersed with chapters showing the gatherings of these urban explorers who tell each other urban legends in the locations they explore. We start and end with urban legends and in most of them we recognise someone or something from previous books. I loved the way Grant used the concept of the urban legend and the need people have for a boogeyman. The Burnt Guy boogeyman of many of the legends told clearly connects to the Hunter and Veerle. It also mirrors how Joren Sterckx has become Veerle’s personal boogeyman and the way most people think her believing he’s out there is her reaction to trauma instead of actually true. The question of whether Veerle’s beliefs about the Hunter are delusional or whether they will be vindicated, however impossible they may seem, is at the heart of the narrative and Grant exploits it well.

Grant’s pacing in Urban Legends is impeccable; the build-up of narrative tension is gradual, but relentless, with several big spikes that left me with my heart hammering and turning on some extra lights. I loved the final scenes in Brussels’ sewer system, which were nail-bitingly scary and just a perfect ending to the series. I’m sad to have to say goodbye to Veerle and Kris, but I like the place we leave them in. If you enjoy thrillers with a touch of the supernatural and bit of a scare factor, I can’t recommend Urban Legends and its predecessors highly enough.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.