Four Four-Letter-Words to Praise Gretchen McNeil’s Newest Novel, Four Letter Word: Rich, Real, Eerie, Wild
Written By: Sable Quinn
Sable’s Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Content Warning: there is mention of the ‘Casanova Killer’s’ victims, the gory details of some of the cases, and how he brutally assaulted and murdered the women.
Four Letter Word, Gretchen McNeil. Disney Hyperion, March 5, 2024. 320 pp.
Review on Gretchen McNeil’s Four Letter Word, her newest thriller, set to be in stores by March 5, 2024. This newest thriller is based around Izzy Bell and her small hometown of Eureka, California. The audience is given Izzy Bell, her swoon-worthy and gorgeous love interest, a study-abroad student the Bell family is hosting from Florence, Italy, and a serial killer terrorizing the West Coast, nicknamed the ‘Casanova Killer,’ what could go wrong? Release date: March 5, 2024.
My absolute favorite thing about McNeil’s writing style is her knack for description. It does not matter if she is introducing a new character or detailing the charming Bell house (a charming Queen Anne Victorian, if you will) her detail seemingly allows their readers to be transported directly into whichever scene she is presenting us with. I know not only the entire layout of the Bell house, but I can also vividly see all of the tiny quirks and small intricacies of the different rooms; Harry’s workshop represents his inner turmoil with endless unfinished projects and scraps of materials littered everywhere, Izzy’s bedroom in the attic and how it represents both her safe haven and her prison, etc.
Not only is McNeil’s attention to detail causing flutters in my stomach, but her characters are some of the most layered characters I have come across, so much so that I can still sense who each character is and what they embody.
Izzy is our lost lamb. She does not know who she is, what she wants, or how to stand up for herself. She plans her life out just to appease her mother’s long-lost dreams. Those long-lost dreams of Beth Bell’s rapidly became Izzy Bell’s future: studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and majoring in Art History. This is not the future that Izzy wants. She isn’t even sure what she wants in her future. Instead, Beth is using her daughter to vicariously live the life she never got the chance to live. Izzy goes along with her mother’s plan, the Italian Scheme, as we call it, just to ensure that Beth remains happy and peace restored throughout the Bell household.
Beth is despair, heartbreak, and fraying seams all wrapped into one person. She met Harry Bell in college, where she was on track to study Art History in the rolling, golden hills of Florence, Italy. However, as life does, it interrupts Beth’s plans. She ended up falling pregnant with Izzy’s oldest brother, Taylor, and just like that, her Italian dreams were shattered. She ended up leaving her New England hometown and moving across the country to the small fishing village of Eureka, California, with Harry. It is perpetually overcast and an extremely slow-living community within Eureka, i.e. Beth Bell’s personal Hell. Having been trapped in Eureka for almost thirty years, Beth is now made up of nothing more than isolated loneliness and bitter resentment.
Jake, my lovely, selfless, darling Jake Vargas. This guy undoubtedly became my favorite character, other than Izzy, of course. He is the embodiment of a ‘gentle giant.’ From the moment Jake returns from his internship in Monterey and is introduced, it is like a missing puzzle piece is found. He is the only character within this entire novel that has actually given a single shite about our lovely Izzy (which is bs!), he is the only one that truly knows Izzy, and he is the only one who takes any time to make sure Izzy is okay. Jake is the only thing that has brightened the colors and turned the sounds up in Izzy’s world.
We must protect Jake Vargas at all costs.
I do have to take a moment to show my appreciation to McNeil for not only avoiding making the Bell family a ‘hallmark’ family. Instead of creating the idea of what a ‘normal’ family looks like, McNeil inserted real-life problems into their dynamic.
I am particularly grateful and impressed that she has Beth Bell struggles with Bipolar II within the novel. I feel that mental health is not introduced enough in fiction; it is usually understated and glossed over or overstated and exaggerated. The representation of mental health within literature has improved with time, but having one of the main characters in Four Letter Word representing Bipolar Disorder is phenomenal.
Not only does McNeil include Bipolar Disorder in her novel, but she describes the illness the best that I have witnessed so far. As aforementioned, Bipolar is usually understated or overstated within literature, and McNeil successfully avoids doing either. Not only does she weave Bipolar in pretty well which represents Beth’s fluctuating moods, manic episodes, hair-trigger temper, and major depressive episodes, but she also inserts Jake’s dad dealing with PTSD from active duty. McNeil expertly and seamlessly includes these details in her excellent writing style.
Four Letter Word and Gretchen McNeil, are incredibly real and authentic for including this information. She also introduces the serial killer into the story well. The serial killer is almost happening in the background for the first few chapters, only really coming into the story when mentioned in Izzy’s brief true crime podcast episodes in the beginning. The serial killer is a more pressing topic once Alberto enters the story. McNeil slowly introduces the serial killer aspect to the story, which I love, rather than dramatizing the serial killer angle like most books tend to do. I find that most novels tend to compare serial killers of any type to dramatized versions like Criminal Minds. McNeil, however, does the opposite.
As the book starts to pick up, around the time Alberto arrives to stay with the Bell family (about page 50), I constantly feel like the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up while reading this book. Any encounters the reader ended up witnessing with the ‘Casanova Killer,’ my fingertips were white from gripping the book so hard, I was quite literally sitting on the edge of my couch, and my sweet little grandmother was getting pretty annoyed with my high-pitched chatter as I rambled and freaked out during the more intense scenes later in the book.
During the essential ‘thriller scenes,’ McNeil impressed me with the unfolding of the serial killer’s actions, making sure to weave a brilliant and articulate plan for the killer. Every reader lives for the moment the entire novel and plot click together. The feeling is as if every question I have ever thought up is answered without the questions ever passing my lips.
Unfortunately, I do need to leave you guys with some mystery to uncover for yourselves when Four Letter Word, the newest thriller by Gretchen McNeil, is released on March 5, 2024.
The only complaint – not necessarily a complaint – would be the slow take-off. As aforementioned, the book started to pick up around the fifty-page mark for me. The only reason it is such a gradual take-off is because McNeil is so invested and skilled with her backstory and details throughout the novel. However, this quickly became one of my favorite books because of the phenomenal writing, the clever and intricate way the thriller aspect of the book unfolded, and simply because my heart is bursting and rooting for Izzy and Jake.
Four Letter Word, the newest thriller fiction novel that Gretchen McNeil created and will be sharing with the rest of the world, will be in stores on March 5, 2024. It is an intricately woven thriller with a hint of a love story to give my fellow hopeless romantics’ bleeding hearts some action of their own.
**Content Warning: there is mention of the ‘Casanova Killer’s’ victims, the gory details of some of the cases, and how he brutally assaulted and murdered the women.