MINM Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Put this Jar of Hearts in your beach bag with the sunscreen, or slip it into your carry-on; this tightly-plotted, yet multifaceted, book of character-driven, psychological suspense is a recommended, buzz-worthy addition to your summer - or anytime - TBR! Perfect for a long flight or train ride, once started, you will not want to stop reading! But you may want to prevent the passenger next to you from sneaking glances at your copy; Jar of Hearts does contain a fair amount of sexual content. In fact, in the midst of all of the red herrings, twisty, page-turning goodness, as well as a blossoming romantic attraction between characters, Jar of Hearts addresses how sex can be weaponized for self-validation, manipulation, and dominance, and explores what exactly constitutes a "healthy" sexual, and loving relationship.

Jar of Hearts is cleverly divided into five parts, named after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief, a reference, perhaps, to the specific journey that the reader takes throughout the novel with Georgina Shaw, the main character, and a reference, also, to the grief that "Geo", as her friends call her, has experienced in her life. But Georgina is strong, and has not only survived, but thrived since the death (but until the discovery of the remains) of her high school friend, Angela Wong, for whom family and friends have been grieving for well over a decade. Now the question is: will Geo survive five years in Hazelwood Women's Correctional Institute (an interesting choice of fictional setting)? Will she be able to thrive when she is eventually released from "Hellwood"? And will the serial killer convicted of the murder, not only of Georgina's best friend, but of others, try to contact her - or worse - now that he has escaped from prison, his whereabouts unknown? Will the predator known as the "Sweetbay Strangler" strike again?

Years back, I read Ms. Hillier's debut, as well as her second novel. While I very much enjoyed them both, of the three (and if memory serves), Jar of Hearts has the most three-dimensional characters, and possibly the most well-developed plot. It is also the one that has lingered, and the one I'm already thinking of re-reading at some point. With the use of flashbacks, the tension in the book accelerates as the reader learns what actually happened to sixteen year old murder victim Angela Wong all those many years ago, and the book's ultimate reveal is one of those wonderful, gasp-out-loud moments that we crime fiction readers love! Five of five "hearts" from Mystery in Minutes for the utterly addictive and captivating Jar of Hearts, by Canadian author Jennifer Hillier!


Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier book cover image.jpg

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy novels of psychological suspense featuring morally ambiguous characters.
  • Who appreciate coming-of-age stories involving complicated female, and female-male, friendships. In certain scenes, the novel flashes back to when some of the central characters were in high school.
  • Who are intrigued by, or don't mind, moderately dark and violent crime fiction about serial killers, and what makes them tick.
  • Who appreciate courtroom drama. Jar of Hearts opens with scenes from the "Sweetbay Strangler" trial.
  • Who don't mind sexual content (consensual and non-consensual), as well as a bit of romance, in their crime fiction. 

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)


Publisher's Blurb:

A compelling story of murder, betrayal, and the secrets of the past…

Georgina, known as Geo, is a 30-year-old rising executive when her world comes crashing down. Her high school boyfriend has been identified and arrested for a series of serial murders, including Angela, Geo's best friend in high school. Angela disappeared without a trace at 16 and her body has just been found. Now Geo is under arrest for helping her then-boyfriend cover it up. And it's one of her other close friends from high school, Kaiser Brody, who arrests her.

While Geo is sent to prison for her part, Calvin escapes from custody and is on the run. Geo, now thirty-five, is about to be released from prison to try and start over. But someone has started killing people and dumping their bodies in her old neighborhood, with some of the markers of the missing Sweetbay Strangler—her old boyfriend Calvin. Are these killings some kind of message from Calvin? Are they some of revenge? Is she herself now in danger?

Everything turns on what really happened that tragic night back when Geo and Angela were high schoolers. Everyone thinks they know the truth, but there are dark secrets buried deep within other secrets, and it may be too late for anyone to survive the truth.

Jar of Hearts is a compelling edge-of-your-seat thriller that grabs readers from the very beginning and holds them rapt, as the truth of both the past and the present is skillfully unfolded, until the very last page.


MINM Overall Rating: 5/5 "Hearts"