A Book Spy Review: ‘The Watcher in the Wall’ by Owen Laukkanen

The watcher in the wallIf this book doesn’t freak you out to the point of having nightmares, especially if you’re a parent, then you should probably go talk to someone. Seriously! 

Owen Laukkanen has written a breathtakingly scary novel about a psychopath who preys on depressed teenagers and then encourages them to commit suicide. They find their victims online and then talk them into–even beg them–to end their life, taking sick pleasure in ruling over a community of unhappy and angry teenagers. 

Kirk Stevens is part of a joint BCA-FBI task force that handles violent crimes. He and his partner, Carla Windermere, begin chasing after the online predator when they connect the suicide of a teenager who Steven’s daughter went to school with, back to a chat room this anonymous sicko presides over.

To really add to the overall creepiness of the book, the author explains in a note to readers that while it’s fiction, he based this book loosely on a real-life incident. So yes, at least to some extent, this crap is actually happening. (That should have put a chill up your spine, it did mine!)

Yes, it’s creepy, but Watcher in the Wall is also heartbreaking, as it sheds light on the far too many teenagers who are depressed in today’s world.

In the book, they communicate on forums dedicated to helping each other find the perfect way to kill themselves. They even share tips and help build each other up when they get scared. These scenes are particularly chilling, and even hard to read at times. Most of the time. As a father to five kids, I desperately want to believe that these chat rooms and online communities don’t exist, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually sit in front of a computer and Google it. Seriously, I can only handle so much.

For me, there were times I felt completely out of my comfort zone reading this book. It is most certainly not the CIA or spy-type of novel I’m accustomed to reading. It’s a little like watching an episode of Law and Order SVU or Criminal Intent, and much closer to that then something like, say, the Saw movies. In fact, I appreciated that the author seemed to have a calculated message in his plot, rather than just writing for shock value. 

Anyhow, this case becomes personal for both main characters, Stevens and Windermere, but for different reasons. For Stevens, it hits close to home because the teenager went to his daughter’s school–which bothers him a great deal. Windermere, on the other hand, is after this person because she knows what it’s like to be a troubled teen, recalling her own past and battles with depression. 

With Stevens and Windermere both thoroughly motivated, they begin the cyber investigation into who this person is, trying desperately to stop them before they can claim any more victims. They also look into why this person is so messed up, hoping to draw clues based on their upbringing. What follows is a pretty in-depth lesson about teens, bullying, self-worth, and peer pressure. 

I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t dislike it either. Because the subject matter is so important, yet hard to read at times, I find it incredibly difficult to rate Laukkanen’s latest novel. I can add that I’ve never read any of his previous books and still understood this one and its characters just fine. So anyone could pick it up and give it a go, that’s not the issue. The issue is that, while well-written, this book is a very dark and rather grim look at a world most of us would much prefer to pretend doesn’t exist. 

If you want an accurate, albeit terrifying look into what’s out there on the dark side of the internet awaiting your children, then check out The Watcher in the Wall. However, let me just say this: your threshold for creepy and scary stuff better be through the roof, otherwise you’ll have knots in your stomach the size of bowling balls by the time you finish the book! 

Book Details 

Author: Owen Laukkanen

Pages: 368 (Hardcover)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Release Date: March 15, 2016 (Click here to order your copy!)

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