Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin

Playing Dead by Julia HeaberlinI’ve been told that I have a strange name for a girl, that I’m nosy, that I’m too delicate to carry a gun. The first two are true. – Tommie McCloud

Native Texan Tommie McCloud has spent the past few years anywhere but home. Her dreams of being a champion on the national rodeo circuit – and her mother’s dreams of Tommie being a classical pianist – were literally crushed when a bull with a particularly nasty temper shattered Tommie’s forearm and hand, as well as her future.

So instead of becoming the next Pam Minick or Martha Argerich, Tommie went to college, pursued a degree in psychology, and continued working around the horses she loves so much. Now only a few credits shy of her Ph.D., Tommie has combined the two into a career working with abused and traumatized children in a ranch environment.

When she returns to the family’s estate following her father’s death, Tommie realizes Texas is deep in her blood and that home is where she should have been all along. But just when she thinks she’s ready to settle back in and reestablish her relationships with her sister, niece, and mother, Tommie’s life is ripped apart once again when a mysterious letter arrives suggesting everything Tommie thought she knew to be true about her life and family is actually a lie.

Not wanting to believe the letter’s claim that she is in fact the writer’s daughter, who was kidnapped over 30 years ago in Chicago, Tommie nevertheless can’t simply turn her back on such a momentous, life-altering possibility. Especially not when her own cursory investigation turns up information that brings other aspects of her family’s history into question. And certainly not when a mysterious man claiming to be a journalist shows up asking questions related to the claims made in the letter, questions which suggest Tommie’s past may actually be intertwined with the massacre of a family in Chicago, the murder of a woman in Oklahoma, and the disappearance of yet another young girl. Now Tommie has no choice but to confront the past before she will be able to embrace her future.

Tommie McCloud is the kind of lead who is incredibly easy to root for, brought beautifully and believably to life under author Julia Heaberlin’s skillful hand. Texas-tough and more than capable of handling herself physically, it’s the mental hurdles that cause Tommie problems in Playing Dead. Already haunted by the tragic death of her brother when she was a young girl, Tommie is prone to occasional panic attacks. A failed relationship during her burgeoning rodeo days has also made her somewhat aloof and distrustful of people in general, a mindset that is both a help and hindrance as she tries desperately to make sense of the scattered pieces of the puzzle that her family’s history has become.

Throughout, Heaberlin strikes the perfect balance between character development and action. Tommie is an introspective and reflective woman by nature and the events confronting her in Playing Dead force her to go ever farther down that path, questioning everything and everyone, including herself. But Heaberlin never lets the story simmer too long psychologically, weaving first class thriller action into the plot just when it’s needed to keep things from taking place too much in Tommie’s head. And though parts of the story happen in Chicago, the majority of the tale unfolds in a Texas so wonderfully realized and brimming with picture-perfect descriptions that you can practically feel the hot wind on your shoulder.

A powerful and confident debut, Playing Dead should unquestionably bring Julia Heaberlin’s career as an author roaring to life.

Playing Dead is available from Ballantine Books (ISBN: 978-0345527011).

Julia Heaberlin was a journalist for more than twenty years for such newspapers at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Detroit News. Playing Dead is her first novel. She lives with her husband and son in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where she is a free-lance writer and is at work on her second book, Lie Still. To learn more about Julia, visit her website.

– CONTEST: Win a copy of Playing Dead

TLC Tours has generously arranged for me to give a copy of Playing Dead to one of my readers. To be entered to win just leave a comment below. (US/Canada mailing addresses only, no P.O. boxes. Sorry.) The contest will run through midnight EST on July 20th, at which time a winner will be selected via from all comments left.


Be sure to visit all of Julia Heaberlin’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS


  • Elizabeth A. White

    July 26, 2012 - 12:50 PM

    Congratulations to Sheila K., who was selected by as the contest winner!

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours

    July 22, 2012 - 11:45 AM

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  • […] July 5th:  Jenn’s BookshelvesMonday, July 9th:  Twisting the LensWednesday, July 11th:  Reviews by Elizabeth A. WhiteFriday, July 13th:  Luxury ReadingWednesday, July 18th:  Broken TeepeeDate TBD: […]

  • Laura Kay

    July 17, 2012 - 8:05 AM

    I just read another review for Playing Dead and so now I’m looking around at other reviews and I’m very interested in reading it! When I first saw the title I was hesitant, I’m glad I started reading the reviews.

  • techeditor

    July 16, 2012 - 3:12 PM

    I’m always afraid to purchase books by debut authors. But if I win one, I give them a chance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in this way before. I hope to be again. I’ll write a review and recommendation and happily post it all over the Internet.

  • sabrina ogden

    July 13, 2012 - 3:56 PM

    Great review, Elizabeth. And for real with Clare… if she wins, holler at me and if she’s willing, I’ll be happy to send it along.

  • Donna L

    July 11, 2012 - 9:17 PM

    This book sounds like a good read. I would love to win it. Thanks!

  • Sheila K.

    July 11, 2012 - 8:05 PM

    I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

  • DarcyO

    July 11, 2012 - 5:50 PM

    Sounds like a great read. Great cover. Thanks for the chance.

  • Clare

    July 11, 2012 - 12:12 PM

    Book cover has me hooked – and it sounds like a great read too. Unfortunately I’m in the UK so no entry for me – I’ll just have to add it to my wish list 🙂

    • Elizabeth A. White

      July 11, 2012 - 12:25 PM

      If you know someone in the US or Canada who would be willing to act as your middleman you can certainly use their address.

      • sabrina ogden

        July 13, 2012 - 3:55 PM

        I’ll be her middle man…

  • Charles Wingfield

    July 11, 2012 - 11:31 AM

    Book sounds very intriguing! I lived in Texas for many years, and yes you can’t get away from that hot wind! 😉 Love the book cover too.