Cover Image: Unexpected


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Member Reviews

I went into this book not knowing much about it, but after hearing the premise I was already intrigued. I discovered that it’s been 20 years since Elizabeth was rescued and with that, the case has been in the news again. After she was rescued, her family helped lobby for the passing of a National Amber Alert which I never knew. The book is about 50/50 in terms of the author's experience growing up as a member of the LDS Church and also about his role in heading the public relations team when Elizabeth was kidnapped. Elizabeth also writes the forward for the novel. I thought hearing about the media side of things was quite interesting as I’ve watched many crime dramas/ read a few crime novels but never from this perspective. After reading this book I’ll definitely be checking out the book that the Smart family published and reading up on Elizabeth's advocacy work.

*Actual rating 3.5 stars
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Post Hill Press for gifting me a digital ARC of this behind-the-scenes look into Elizabeth Smart's disappearance - 5 stars!

Twenty years after Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and subsequently rescued, Chris Thomas tells the story of how he managed the press, police, and Elizabeth's family to help bring her home.  In alternating chapters, Chris tells about growing up in The Church of Latter-day Saints and how it prepared him to take on this task.

This was such an interesting read.  If you are looking for details on Elizabeth's life while kidnapped or even her rescue, there are plenty of other books out there, including one written by Elizabeth.  This book talks about all the public relations duties that Chris took on for the Smart family, to help them negotiate all this unchartered territory in a way that kept Elizabeth's story alive while allowing them to maintain some sort of private family life as well.  Chris' own family had to take a backseat at this time, and you could feel the stress he was under.  I loved the parts about Chris' childhood, especially the interactions with his veteran neighbor.  It also gives a high-level look into his religion's ideals without being preachy or going into too much detail.  Good life lessons here - everyone is going through something and our responses to them should reflect that.
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Thank you Chris Thomas, Post Hill Press and Netgalley for allowing me to read this ARC e-book. I think like most Americans the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping and especially the backstory was so intriguing and everybody seemed to be tuning in to hear how and what had happened. This story was another perspective, a perspective of those who fought behind the scenes and how a community and faith pulled together. It was such a refreshing and yet gut wrenching tale and it was beautifully told.
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Many of us remember the day when a young 14-year old girl named, Elizabeth Smart, was kidnapped in her Salt Lake City home by knifepoint.  What you don't know about that case is the back story of the young public relations professional, Chris Thomas, and what he went through to navigate the intense media pressures that ensued. 
His newly released book, "Unexpected" gives you a glimpse into his early childhood, his faith and how each played a pivotal role to manage the media and communication during the case. He seamlessly jumps from one part of his life to the next in a well-crafted memoir that left me unexpectedly turning pages. (which says something because I typically fall asleep while reading.) 5/5 would highly recommend for your own personal reading or a book club.
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Thank you to the author, Post Hill Press and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and the efforts to find her - not Elizabeth's story, but that of the surprisingly young man who supported Elizabeth's family from a PR point of view in dealing with the immense tide of media interest. There were huge pressures on the family from both the general public and the police as the search progressed, and when Elizabeth was eventually found.

Smart wrote the foreword to the book, so gives it her tacit approval, but the book itself is more of a memoir centering on the author's life growing up as a member of the Latter Day Saints, and supporting fellow believers (the Smart family) through the emotional ordeal of their child's kidnapping. The author provided interesting, non-preachy insight into the beliefs and church of the Latter Day Saints, although he - perhaps obviously - chose to dwell on the positive aspects of community and commitment rather than calling any of the more controversial issues surrounding the church into question. 

For those looking more for Elizabeth’s experience, I recommend Smart’s own book, “My Story” - for those interested in the bigger picture, this is a worthwhile read.
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I appreciated Chris Thomas’ well-written memoir that deals with two interesting topics. It’s a  behind the scenes look at the PR involved with the search and eventual rescue of Elizabeth Smart. It also is a heartwarming coming of age story of a young man growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He does a great job explaining the basic beliefs and culture of the church and the ways his membership helped him in his future career. Highly recommend for anyone who closely followed the Elizabeth Smart abduction or anyone who is interested in learning more about the LDS church.
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Chris Thomas’ new memoir, Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion (Post Hill Press 2023), grounds its premise in Thomas’ work as a public relations specialist with expertise in crisis communications related to his work on the Elizabeth Smart abduction, rescue, and the trial of her kidnappers. Unexpected also, with varying degrees of success, serves as a memoir of Thomas’ own life and his experience growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thomas’ memoir has two competing tracks. The first is the dramatic and rarely considered perspective of the public relations surrounding an international case that requires media attention to gain traction and recognition: a kidnapping. The abduction of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah galvanized the general public in the US and internationally. Even more stunning, her return to her family after months of abuse and captivity—a return that became more and more statistically unlikely as time went on—was a happy end to a story that was more than harrowing for Elizabeth and her family. 

Amidst the frantic search for Elizabeth and the international attention from media outlets, Chris Thomas appears. With expertise in public relations and crisis communication, Unexpected details the ways in which Thomas was able to manage public relations and media attention for the family, and how he was able to keep Elizabeth’s story in the news and on people’s radars as the search for Elizabeth continued. The second track of this story is a straightforward memoir style, with chapters detailing Thomas’ childhood and his life growing up in the LDS church (commonly known as the Mormon Church). These two tracks intersect because Thomas suggests that it is precisely his LDS background, and LDS culture more generally, helped him manage the Smart case and intuit the right steps to take in helping the family cope with her kidnapping. 

There are several interesting elements to this memoir. First, the text includes a foreword by Elizabeth Smart herself, which not only gives her blessing to Thomas’ narrative, but contextualizes her feelings around Thomas’ role in her life and her parents’ lives (a role that continues to this day). I truly loved the foreword, and it was genuinely wonderful to hear from Smart herself on the subject of this memoir. Further, the details around Thomas’ job in public relation and crisis communications were fascinating. His role is one I think the general public forgets a lot, and in this case, he seems to have saved the family from a great deal of grief, pain, and stress. This role also took a toll on Thomas, and it was fascinating and heart-wrenching to read about how the Smart kidnapping effected Thomas’ work and personal life as he devoted al of his emotional energies to the Smart family. 

All of that said, there was a lot about this book that did not resonate with me. Frankly, I don’t think I am the right audience. Unexpected positions itself as counter to many narratives of the LDS (Mormon) church, which either do one of two things: regularly position the church as a negative, traumatic, and exclusionary organization for various reasons, or suggest that extremist cult leaders have roots in the LDS church. Thomas’ memoir wants to position the LDS church as a positive force, or at the very least a not-entirely-bad one. His ambition, as he says in the memoir, is not to preach or to induct anyone into the faith, but rather to educate. In some ways this is productive, in others, I felt that the uncritical perspective was grating. In some ways, Thomas provided only information, but in others it was clear that his positive relationship to the church coloured his perspective in a way that just left me with a lot more questions than answers. I think LDS readers would be very impressed with this book, but I felt confused and unconvinced by the religious leanings of the text. 

Further, the memoir sections of the book—which are wholly dedicated to Thomas’ early life and LDS membership—were difficult to read. I struggled to find them relevant, which takes me back to my point about the religious leanings of the text. These sections didn’t hold my attention and didn’t interest me. It’s difficult to splice a story like the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart with personal interjections from childhood and reach the same level of intensity. I always wanted to get back to the Smart case. Perhaps I need to read more closely, but these memoir sections from Thomas’ youth were not meeting the story of the Smart kidnapping in any meaningful way for me. 

Unless the religious elements of the LDS church interest you, I would suggest picking up a different text if you’re looking for more information about the Smart case. While there were moments in Unexpected I really felt engrossed by, it was generally not for me at all. 

Please add Unexpected to your Goodreads shelf. 

Don’t forget to follow True Crime Index on Twitter and please visit our Goodreads for updates on what we’re reading! You can find Rachel on her personal @RachelMFriars or on Goodreads @Rachel Friars.

About the Writer:

Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary and the co-creator of True Crime Index. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads. 

A digital copy of this book was graciously provided to True Crime Index from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review. 
Expected publication date: March 7, 2023
Chris Thomas is a writer, publicist and communications specialist, who served as one of the PR representatives for the Smart family during the Elizabeth Smart abduction. Thomas is also an active member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, and he describes the Mormon religion in detail, and how it attributed to the behaviours and the attitudes the Smart family held before, and after, the kidnapping. 
This novel is not specifically separated as such but it has three parts to it; one, Thomas during his time as the PR rep with the Smart family during Elizabeth’s abduction; two, Thomas’ upbringing and family life and three, a breakdown and examination of the Mormon religion, including its prejudices, stereotypes and misunderstandings by society at large. Thomas does his best to tie all three of these together into a well-packaged story, and he manages this, for the most part. 
“Unexpected: The Backstory of Finding Elizabeth Smart and Growing Up in the Culture of an American Religion” has a foreword by Smart, so you can assume Thomas received her full approval to go ahead with his pseudo-memoir. That being said, Elizabeth herself is rarely in Thomas’ book, as he came into play after she was abducted. Thomas does provide details on what went on behind-the-scenes, including the family tensions with each other and with the police and other cutthroat journalists that took place as a result. (Thomas does all of this respectfully of course). (For those who are looking for Elizabeth’s experience, I recommend Smart’s own book, “My Story”)
I did not know much about Latter Day Saints before reading this novel, and Thomas provided an interesting perspective, being a life-long member. He highlights the religion in a positive note, obliterating the “polygamous” and “cult-like” monikers the religion has received over the years. Like most religions, it has its negative parts as well, but Thomas’ focus is exclusively on the religions’ sense of community and commitment. 
“Unexpected” is part true crime, part memoir. The behind-the-scenes look at the experiences of the Smart family was emotional and raw, but it was also the most interesting part for me. I don’t know Thomas well enough to have a stake in his background or life history, and I am too cynical to look at any religion in an overly positive way. “Unexpected” should not be read by anyone looking for Elizabeth’s story, but does provide an honest look at the life of a public relations agent faced with the immediate pressure of being thrust into the spotlight with a young girls’ life at stake.
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I really wanted to enjoy this, but I found the author's backstory to be distracting and to me it devalued the whole book. 

When the book stuck to telling Elizabeth Smart's story I found it compelling and very interesting, but once the author started telling his story I got bored. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
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This memoir is a behind the scenes look at what the author experienced while being thrown into a public relations position when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah during the summer of 2002.  

The story is layered, with a lot of flash backs to experiences that Mr. Thomas had as a child and adolescent.  He wrote from a perspective of each age and shared the maturity he gained through interacting with a very cranky neighbor during his youth to pushy media personalities in his professional career, while representing the Smart family.  

The author has a remarkable ability to recap his life experience where you get a sense of growth and change over time.  It is a very personal story that shows how to deal with life when you are pushed in the deep end and you ‘gotta keep swimmin’.  

It is worth a read for those interested in personal stories of vulnerability and openness, but also one of inner strength and overcoming judgements.
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Twenty years ago the attention of the world was focused on finding 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped in her sleep from her Utah home. Anyone who remembers Elizabeth's abduction will want to learn more and Chris' book does just that detailing the challenges, debates, disappointments and opinions that guided the Smart family throughout this nightmare.  He shows the perils of dealing with a family desperately trying to find their daughter, while dealing with an onslaught of press conferences, interviews and incorrect information from the media both here and around the world for nine months. Chris' firsthand experience working daily with the media and the family to keep attention focused on finding Elizabeth is fascinating, and at times ugly too. 

Chris' book is just that, unexpected. While sharing the story about searching for and eventually finding Elizabeth, he provides insight into his Mormon faith and childhood moments that guided him throughout. From growing up in The Church of Latter-day Saints and his faith journey to being a eight-year old entrepreneur selling nightcrawlers to raise money for a new bike. Hearing about his childhood and the moments really adds to the Smart story. Perhaps the most unexpected story in Chris' book though is about his relationship with his drunk and angry, World War 2 veteran neighbor Baker. Like most of the bullies from our childhoods, he share stories about fearing Baker and the conflicts that terrorized him to growing up and confronting Baker and facing his fears to   the tears he shed when Baker died. In a story about Elizabeth Smart, Chris' story within it is both moving and thoughtful and really brings it all together.

History often shows that whether it's fate, divine intervention or circumstance, that the right people with the right experience and drive come together at the right moments to define the moment. Chris' book show this and that sometimes you really should expect the unexpected.
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This memoir offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the PR and media aspects of the Elizabeth Smart abduction back in 2002, but it is so much more than that. I found its descriptions of LDS/Mormon community life, which I didn't know much about before, to be thoughtful, tender, and balanced. The way the narrative about the Smart case weaves into the author's upbringing and overall life experience is really exceptional. Taken as a whole, the book gives insight into the author and his community, as well as into the human condition in general. Highly recommended.
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I received a free copy of, Unexpected , by Chris Thomas,   from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I thought I was going to enjoy this book, but I did not.  It was some what interesting but I did not like the author.
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I absolutely devoured this book! I was hooked on the Elizabeth Smart disappearance while it was ongoing and afterwards. Chris Thomas was the family’s publicist and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the “backstage” insights to this highly publicized case.
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This book is very well written and does an excellent job of tying together lessons learned by the author as a child and how he used them to help guide him through the communication process during this world-renowned crisis. I was approaching it from a crisis communications perspective but found it so much more than an opportunity to learn from his experience in the trenches. I highly recommend this read as it is a completely different look than what we have heard so far about what was going on behind-the-scenes during the search for, and recovery of, Elizabeth Smart.
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Elizabeth’s Return Should Satisfy True Crime Buffs
Chris Thomas is a writer, speaker, and communication professional and a member of the L.S.D. church. Chis is married and this story happened 20 years ago when Chris had only been married six months. Chris grew up in the Latter-day Saint culture and this book is about Elizabeth Smart who went missing from the family home in the middle of the night in 2002. Chris Thomas was only thirty when he became the Smart family publicist during the nine and a half months that Elizabeth Smart went missing.
Chis has written a remarkable book which not only gives you the inside story into the Smart family’s dilemma when their daughter was kidnapped, but he describes how the L.S.D church comes together to help the family look for Elizabeth immediately. Chris becomes the family spokesperson and navigates the Smart family, police, T.V and media over the next nine months.
Chris tells the story in Unexpected about his experience of growing up as a Mormon in the church of Latter-day Saint culture. Chris takes the readers behind the scenes, providing new details about Elizabeth’s abduction, and lets readers read how the LSD church is run and how he believes this helped him develop the intuition to navigate Elizabeth’s case.  
Chris talks about how living next door as a child, to an alcoholic who verbally abuses both Chris’s father and Chris from age 3. Chris at such a young age cannot understand what is wrong with Baker but later comes to understand the secret of his Neighbour as a broken war hero when Chris visits Baker to say goodbye. Baker invites Chris into his home and Baker opens up and shares the trauma of how war changed him to the person he now is. The story is heart wrenching and brings both to tears and leaves Chris with a better understanding of the old man next door.
Chis does an extremely excellent job of tying together both his personal experiences growing up and the effect and toll of Elizabeth Smarts abduction on him personally and the Smart family. John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted, credits Chris Thomas with the credit for keeping the public and family focused on finding Elizabeth. Chris did 100’s of interviews, he helps the family navigate the press and takes 10’s of thousands of calls over nine months. Chris helps with the Amber Alert, and the eventual rescue of Elizabeth. Chis reckons the lessons learned as a child helped him develop the “intuition” to navigate Elizabeth’s case.
A very well-balanced book on both Chris’s life in the LDS church and the Rape and Abduction of Elizabeth Smart with plenty of facts which have never been revealed before. Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers of this book for giving me a free advance copy of the book to preview and I am leaving this review voluntarily
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