Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Killer's Cousin

Killer's Cousin

4.4 26
by Nancy Werlin

View All Available Formats & Editions

After being accused and acquitted in the death of his girlfriend, seventeen-year-old David is sent to live with his aunt, uncle, and young cousin to avoid the media frenzy. But all is not well at his relatives' house. His aunt and uncle are not speaking, and twelve-year-old Lily seems intent on making David's life a torment. And then there's the issue of his older


After being accused and acquitted in the death of his girlfriend, seventeen-year-old David is sent to live with his aunt, uncle, and young cousin to avoid the media frenzy. But all is not well at his relatives' house. His aunt and uncle are not speaking, and twelve-year-old Lily seems intent on making David's life a torment. And then there's the issue of his older cousin Kathy's mysterious death some years back. As things grow more and more tense, David starts to wonder-is there something else that his family is trying to hide from?

Editorial Reviews

Horn Book
When seventeen-year-old David Yaffe moves into the third floor of his aunt and uncle's Cambridge, Massachusetts, triple-decker, he already has a lot going against him, but the antagonism his relatives display increases his troubles. Recently acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend in a nationally publicized trial, David struggles to come to terms with the way that the events of the past year have changed his life. His eleven-year-old cousin, Lily, exhibits malicious behavior that escalates from eavesdropping and taunting to "guerrilla attacks" on David's apartment-strewing trash, destroying computer files, gluing CDs into their cases. Consumed by problems in their marriage dating back to the death of their older daughter Kathy four years before, Lily's parents refuse to recognize her disturbing actions and attitude. Expertly paced, the thriller unfolds tantalizingly slowly, as David learns additional details about Kathy's death and Lily's involvement. As the narrator, he also withholds the full story of his girlfriend's death until the very end, which both adds to the suspense and appropriately reflects his longing for privacy and anonymity. His deep-rooted sense of guilt and loss color his thoughts and cast doubt in the reader's mind about his innocence. Everyday details such as David's adjustment to a new school and his interest in "The X-Files" ground the story in reality. Young adults will eat this one up. (Jan/Feb 1999).
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Many secrets bubble just beneath the surface of this skillful thriller narrated by a high-school senior who has been accused--and acquitted--of murdering his girlfriend," said PW in a starred review. Ages 14-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
VOYA - Melissa Thacker
As this suspenseful book opens, seventeen-year-old David Bernard Yaffe has just been acquitted from the murder of his girlfriend Emily and sent to live with his Uncle Vic, Aunt Julia, and eleven-year-old cousin Lily in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to finish out his senior year. David is given the attic apartment to live in, the same place where Vic and Julia's eighteen-year-old daughter, Kathy, committed suicide four years ago. Since then, tension has been high in the Shaughnessy household and David's presence only compounds matters. David knows that Julia has a problem with him being there, but Lily seems to especially resent David. She hates the fact that he has Kathy's apartment and that he encourages Vic and Julia to talk to each other directly and not through her. She constantly needles and taunts David, and eventually starts vandalizing his apartment. To make matters worse, David thinks he is being haunted. At first, he thinks it is Emily, but he soon comes to realize that the humming and indistinct shape he sees is Kathy. As David learns more about Kathy's death, he realizes that Lily knows more about it than anyone suspects and that Kathy desperately wants him to help Lily in some way. Over time, David is able to help Lily and also begin the healing process in his own life. Although we are slowly able to piece together what happened with David and Emily, The Killer's Cousin is clearly Lily's story. David and Lily are sympathetic characters, who compel readers to discover the whole truth behind their stories. Once they get started, readers will be hard pressed to put this book down. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
After being acquitted of murdering his girlfriend, David goes to Boston to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousin Lily to complete his senior year of high school. He is trying to piece together his life and deal with the tragedy that he caused. There is an awkwardness that greets him and he assumes it is because of his presence until peculiar events begin to occur. The apparitions of his cousin Kathy who died four years earlier are accompanied by humming sounds. Eleven-year-old Lily asks David if he felt "powerful" when he killed. At first he thinks it is just the curiosity of a child. Later, he becomes convinced there is more. When David suggests to his aunt and uncle that Lily needs psychiatric help, they cannot accept it. He discovers the truth about Lily's involvement in Kathy's death and instinctively knows he must intercede to prevent another tragedy. Werlin has created a gripping psychological drama. Vivid characters populate this fast-paced and intense story. There is much for the reader to think about in the relationships David has with his relatives, his parents, and the friends he makes in Boston. The theme of living with the consequences of one's actions is well displayed.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-David Yaffe, 18, having recently been acquitted of murdering his girlfriend, is sent to live in Cambridge, MA, with his aunt Julia, uncle Vic, and cousin Lily to repeat his senior year of high school. Lily, 11, is resentful of his presence; she feels that her dead sister Kathy's room is rightfully hers, and that he should not be staying in it. Lily taunts and torments David until he begins to doubt his own sanity. His emotional fragility is compellingly revealed as he works through the loss of his girlfriend and the complicity he feels over her death. Readers see Lily through David's eyes; she is alternately depicted as the troubled child of dysfunctional parents, a spoiled brat, and a truly evil character. She plays on his fears and pushes David to the edge until he realizes what he has always known: that she, too, is a killer. This psychological thriller will keep readers involved and should appeal to fans of Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon.-Michele Snyder, Chappaqua Public Library, NY

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I sat down. "I don't remember. You'd better tell me."

My father nodded. We looked at each other straight on for possibly the first time, neither of us looking away.

He said, "I was at the inquest. It--Kathy's death--was ugly. She ingested a glass of cleaning solvent. Ammonia of some kind. She was taking a bubble bath, and apparently had the glass all ready next to the tub. She drank half of it--more wasn't required. It burned out her throat, and she sank down under the water. The actual cause of death was drowning. There was water in her lungs.

"And Lily . . . Well, Kathy had locked the door to the attic but Lily knew where the key was. She had sneaked in before. She liked to hang out here when Kathy wasn't in."

Now, that sounded like Lily to me. "So she thought Kathy was out?" I asked.

"I think so," said my father. "Her testimony was a little confused. She was only seven. The judge was very gentle with her."

"What did she see?" I asked.

"At first she didn't realize Kathy was there. The bathroom door was closed. Then she heard a noise . . . probably the glass crashing to the floor." My mother made a sound, a soft involuntary mew, and my father paused for a moment, glancing at her, before continuing.

"Lily said she burst into the bathroom--yelling 'Boo!' or something. The bathroom door wasn't locked. You understand that it would all have happened very quickly. Kathy would have been beneath the water already. Lily said she thought Kathy was playing a game, holding her breath under the water. But she didn't come up."

"Lily got all wet," said my mother. "She tried to pull Kathy out . . ."

The ice cream I'd eaten earlier threatened to push its way back up my throat.

"Lily even tried to pick up the glass," my father said. "But of course it had shattered on the tile when Kathy dropped it, so Lily's hands got cut up. And her knees . . . She kept saying it was her fault. Children that age, they often think they're responsible for everything."

I had a vivid picture of Lily kneeling on the shards by the tub, pulling desperately at Kathy. "Okay," I said. "That's enough." But then I thought of something else.

"This was about Kathy's boyfriend?" I asked. "The one who dumped her?"

"Yes," said my mother.

"Well," said my father, the stickler for detail, "that's what the inquest concluded. The letter from him was on the kitchen counter."

I asked, "Did Kathy write a note or something?"

"No," he said, then added, "I wish she had. It would have been . . . not easier, perhaps, but more final." He shrugged. "People usually leave letters, but not always. This could have been a sudden impulse. Probably Kathy didn't really intend to die. Just to get sick. To scare her boyfriend, perhaps. And maybe Vic and Julia, too. They'd been fighting."

I found myself staring across the room into the bathroom. Its door was ajar, and I could see the edge of the tub inside.

"Why were Vic and Julia fighting with Kathy?" I asked.

"They'd been fighting since she dropped out of college," my mother said. "She'd been commuting to U. Mass, Boston. Do you remember?"

"Something, yeah," I said. What I suddenly did remember were my mother's comments about it. Julia won't pull her claws out of Kathy. Mark my words: That girl will never get away.

"So they were angry at Kathy for dropping out of school?" I asked.

"Yes. They'd been letting her live here rent free. But when she dropped out and got a job, Julia said she had to start paying." My mother's tone dripped disapproval.

"That doesn't sound unreasonable," I said, and heard my father's grunt of agreement.

"She wasn't earning very much money," retorted my mother. "And I think, with a little understanding and support, she would have gone back to school. But Julia's attitude made her dig in harder. Julia always makes you want to do the opposite of what she says."

That was true. I moved on. "So they fought about college and about rent money? And Julia and Vic were in agreement?"

"Well," my mother said. "My brother . . ."

I waited.

"At first, Vic didn't take the rent money from Kathy. She'd give him a check and he'd deposit it, but then he'd give her back the cash. Julia didn't know."

"Tell him, Eileen," said my father.

"I was going to!" my mother said. But then she sighed. "Oh, God. This is embarrassing. David, it was my idea. Vic asked me about charging Kathy rent . . . he wasn't sure . . . so I told him to give Kathy back the money. Secretly."

"It was a spectacular piece of meddling," observed my father calmly. "Your mother outdid herself."

"I was only thinking of Kathy!" my mother protested.

"You were thinking of needling Julia, and you know it."

"Oh, and you're so perfect yourself!" Then her voice changed. "I've said I was sorry. I've said it again and again . . . to Vic, to Julia. I couldn't be sorrier."

"Julia found out?" I asked, even though I already knew. It explained so much.

"Naturally," said my father.

"Shut up, Stuart," said my mother. "Yes, David, she found out. Kathy told her--yelled it at her--in the middle of a fight."

I could picture it. Perhaps they had had that fight right here, in this living room. Perhaps Julia had said, Your father and I . . . and Kathy had flung back, Dad doesn't agree with you! He agrees with me! Do you know what he does? Do you know . . .

It was odd. I could almost hear her. Almost see her as she screamed at Julia, her shoulders stiff like Lily's so often were. Kathy? I thought. Kathy, are you there? Are you here?

I heard it then, plainly. Clearly. The humming.

"David?" said my mother.

I looked up. "Yes?"

"Julia has never forgiven me," my mother said. "But I am most sincerely sorry. I've told her. I told her then, and after Kathy . . . and I've written . . ." Her voice trailed off.

"I understand," I said.

"I thought I meant well. But your father is right, too. Julia and I . . . I'd gotten into the habit of, well, I was always trying to score points . . . It went too far. I went too far. I know that."

I said, "It's okay," and I heard her sigh. I listened as my mother told the rest of the story.

After the incident over the rent, Kathy had begun paying for real. Julia collected the checks, and kept a sharp eye on the checking account to ensure that Vic gave Kathy no extra money. My mother believed that this, and not Kathy's death, was the true beginning of Vic and Julia's estrangement. And then Kathy's new boyfriend had entered the scene.

"He wasn't a nice Catholic boy," said my mother. "Or even a nice Jewish boy. But I don't know a lot about it. My brother . . . wasn't talking very much to me right then. He had long hair. The boy, I mean." Her eyes skittered away from my own hair, longer than it had ever been. "An earring too. Of course no job. And of course they were . . ." She gave me a quick look, swallowed, and finished bravely. ". . . having sex."

It was an odd moment to realize I loved her, my sturdily Catholic--despite the conversion--mother; I grinned at her. For a second, as our eyes held, I thought we might both laugh. Then she ducked her head. "Well. It was all perfectly ordinary, really. Julia overreacted. Anyway, it only lasted three months. But by the end, nobody was talking, even to argue."

Nobody talking. Typical Shaughnessy. Typical Yaf-

I said quickly, "And then Kathy died."

"Yes," said my mother. "Yes."

That was all.

After a while, my parents went to bed, and I flung myself onto the sofa. Then I got up, and prowled into the bathroom; looked at the tub. It needed a good scrubbing. I had never bothered.

If I closed my eyes I could almost see Kathy there. See the shadow; hear the humming.

All at once I couldn't bear being in the house. I put on my running clothes and headed out, fast.

The Shaughnessy apartment was dark. The only indication that Vic and Julia were there was the fact that their bedroom door was closed.

Lily's door was also shut. For some reason I paused outside it for a few seconds. It wasn't all Lily's fault that she was so odd. Terrible things had happened in her short life.

I was halfway down the stairs when I realized that I hadn't asked my parents about Lily. What had been going on with her while Kathy quit school, got a job and a boyfriend, and fought with her parents? Very likely my mother and father would not have known. What was there to know about a seven-year-old? That she had been in second grade? That she had liked to sneak into the attic where her big sister lived, to play at being grown-up?

I should live here, Lily had said of the attic, on the day I moved in. It's all wrong.

And then I wondered: Why would she want to live in the place where she'd seen her sister die?

Meet the Author

Nancy Werlin was born and raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA and now lives near Boston. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Yale.

Since then, she has worked as a technical writer and editor for several computer software and Internet companies, while also writing fiction.She is a National Book Award finalist.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >