All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda (2016)

A review of Megan Miranda’s book The Perfect Stranger, can be found here: https://wp.me/p6N6mT-2oB

all the missing girls

Where are all the missing girls? Closer than you might think.

Nicolette Farrel left her small North Carolina town days after high-school graduation in search of a bigger life and has all but erased her time there from her memory. Living in Philadelphia and engaged to a wealthy lawyer, Nic is finally set to completely replace the girl she once was with a sophisticated woman.

Then, a letter arrives from Nic father — a man unraveling from his dementia — that changes everything. Her father mentions seeing Nic’s best friend from childhood, Corinne; a girl who went missing days before Nic left town for good and was never seen again. The letter unsettles Nic and she is haunted by the notion that perhaps her father’s dementia has shaken loose some memories of Corrine’s disappearance.

Baffling her fiance and even herself, Nic returns to her hometown and sets into motion a series of events that re-open Corrine’s missing person’s case. Things go from bad to worse when another young woman, Nic’s neighbor, goes missing under similar circumstances as Corrine.

Now Nic, her brother, her father, her teenage boyfriend, and cast of other characters are pulled into a new investigation and forced to relive the last days of Corrine’s life and what turned out to be the last days of their innocence.

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Lie To Me by JT Ellison (2017)

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Despite their wealth, success, and beauty, Sutton and Ethan Montclair are locked in a marriage that is volatile and on the verge of collapse. The two famous novelists met and married after a passionate, whirlwind affair but as the years past, personal and professional disagreements and fiery arguments have worn their relationship thin.

When Ethan awakens one morning to find Sutton has left a note telling him she was leaving him and did not want to be searched for, he is shocked but not exactly surprised. Their tumultuous marriage has been worse then ever and the two just cannot seem to get past their hurts and jealousies. However, something about the note seems off to Ethan and he is haunted by worries that Sutton is in danger. Even without evidence of anything sinister, he starts to panic.

He involves her friends, family, and finally the police in the search for more information about Sutton’s disappearance. Instead of finding out more about why she left and where she went, he finds himself uncovering more and more secrets about his wife. And rather then being supported and helped by others, he finds they suspect he had something to do with his wife going missing.

Ethan maintains his innocence while the search for Sutton continues, but unexpectedly Sutton’s best friend identifies him to the police as an abuser and points a finger at him as a possible murderer. Ethan denies that he has hurt his wife but when her body turns up in a field nearby, he is arrested and charged with her homicide.

Nothing is as it seems. No one is telling the truth. More than one person has died and more will follow…

…and that is just the first third of the book!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (2017)

then she was gone l jewell

Laurel Mack was living an ordinary life, one she openly admits she took for granted, until the unthinkable happened: her beloved teenage daughter Ellie disappeared. For several agonizing years, Laurel was lost in a endless maze of grief, guilt, and desperation. Her search for where Ellie went and why no trace of her was ever found spelled the end of her marriage and led to a quasi-estrangement from her other two children.

Ten years pass. Laurel has hollowed herself out, put her head down, and lived a numb existence. Suddenly, a call from the local police department delivers the most unimaginable news… they have found her daughter’s body and its location and state confirm the police’s long held belief that Ellie ran away. While she is shocked and horrified to have to bury Ellie, Laurel feels something else…relief. She is freed from the constant search, the constant wondering, and that small shift allows some opportunities for happiness to creep back in.

Enter Floyd, a man Laurel meets through a chance encounter and with whom she feels an instant attraction and kinship. The two move from first date to weekends together in no time, and Laurel is giddy to have intimacy and romance back in her life after so, so long.

There are problems that arise almost immediately and that Laurel ignores. Floyd’s nine-year-old daughter, Poppy looks and acts exactly like her beloved, dead Ellie. She dismisses her unease as a side effect of grief. Furthermore, Poppy and Floyd have a relationship that is so close and so strange, that Laurel must fit in wherever she can; it is clear that the two of them will always be closer than she and Floyd. These two factors are manageable, Laurel thinks, but soon more and more red flags appear: she learns that she knew Poppy’s mother…a woman now missing without a trace. She learns Floyd’s oldest daughter has real fears and misgivings about Poppy’s mother; and that Floyd may even have ties to Ellie’s disappearance.

Slowly, Laurel starts to look closer at the overly simplified explanations offered by Floyd about his life over the past ten years. One thread at a time, one small bit of evidence at a time, she begins to solve two mysteries that the police never could…and she begins to wonder if what she uncovers will mean that her life is also at risk.

A page turner that I could not resist finishing in one night…even as the fire burned out, the house grew cold, and my family went to bed, I stayed on the couch under the covers reading ever last word.

Watching You by Lisa Jewell (2018)

watching you l jewell

In this captivating thriller, a cast of characters living in a idyllic community in Bristol, England find themselves at the center of what seems, at the outset, a series of unconnected events but become a twisting and complicated set of mysteries that will entangle them all with a murder.

At the center of the story is a Tom Fitzwilliam, a national hero of school reform and currently the principal of a once-failing school in Bristol. Charismatic, handsome, and dynamic, Tom is practically worshiped for his ability to turn around struggling schools…and he is actually worshiped by women who cannot help but find themselves attracted to him. For years his work has meant that he, his wife, and their teenage son have moved from town to town, repairing schools and charming women.

The most recent woman to fall under his spell is his neighbor, Josephine Mullen, a gorgeous newlywed who is distracting herself from doubts about her hasty marriage with fantasies about Tom.

Another neighbor, Frankie, is also obsessed with Tom. Frankie is a schizophrenic woman who lives in town and who is convinced Tom is a criminal who is stalking her to keep her from revealing his secrets. Although her ranting is largely ignored, her teenage daughter Jenna cannot help but feel that there might be a thread of truth to her mother’s stories.

While Joey is starting a dangerous flirtation with Tom; Jenna is busy digging into Tom’s past to see if he can be connected to troubling incidents in each of the towns he has lived in. To complicate matters for Tom, his teenage son is also suspicious of his father and begins his own investigation and his wife is becoming jealous of the time he spends at “work.”

Piece by piece, several mysteries linked to Tom — some decades old — come to light and just as the characters in the book are trying to work them all out, a murder raises the stakes on solving them.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (2018)

kingdom of the blind

One of my favorite book characters of all time, Armand Gamache, is back for his fourteenth  adventure in and around the picturesque Quebec village of Three Pines. The novel opens with Gamache answering a mysterious letter that asks him to travel to a nearby home to meet at notary public. Curious what the man could need, Gamache braves a winter storm to travel to the meeting place — a condemned house. Once there he is shocked to learn Myrna Landers, a fellow Three Pines villager, has been summoned as well.  It seems that they have been named executors of a will of a elderly woman who they have never met.

Before they can decide whether to accept the responsibility, the snow storm blows into a blizzard and they must make a dangerous drive to Three Pines to hunker down for the duration. Out of the cold, the notary explains that the will is extremely unusual. Beyond naming strangers to carry out her wishes, it seems the deceased woman —  a cleaning woman before her death — claims to be an Austrian Baroness who has millions and owns property across Europe.

Intrigued, they agree to handle the will and begin their own investigation into the life of the Baroness; including interviewing her children and examining Austrian history. Their search into the woman’s past starts as a simple curiosity, but takes a serious turn when the woman’s oldest son is found dead.

Gamache remains on suspension following the violent and deadly end of a drug war take down in Glass Houses https://wp.me/p6N6mT-36v , which means bringing in Jean Guy Beauvoir and his Sûreté du Québec officers to assist.

While trying to untangle the complexities of the will and related the murder, Gamache is also witnessing the down-fall of a young woman he had mentored through the police academy. After being caught selling drugs, she is expelled and returns to the streets, letting Gamache down spectacularly.  She begins to push drugs on her fellow addicts: not just any drug, but carfentanyl, which is by far the most deadly opioid to ever enter North America.

As winter rages on, Gamache and his fellow neighbors and officers explore both of these complicated cases: one that takes them into the darkest corners of Montreal and the other to the pre-WWI Austria and a family feud that is still reverberating 130 years later.

Blue Monday by Nicci French (2011)

Book #1 in the Frieda Klein Series

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Frieda Klein is a gifted psychoanalyst living in London seeing patients in her private practice and in a free clinic. She is presented to readers in very small doses, with the vast majority of her thoughts, feelings, and past kept from us as the story unfolds. This novel, it seems, is not the time to share Frieda’s story, but rather to share Alan Decker’s.

Alan Decker is a patient that is thrust upon Frieda when a colleague of hers finds himself in the midst of his own mental crisis. Displeased to have to take on a client without warning, and knowing she must tread carefully because Alan Decker is a volatile man who was deeply hurt by her fellow doctor negligence, she nonetheless agrees to see him.

Alan is a man whose life has been suddenly controlled by crippling anxiety attacks, mood swings, and terrifying mental images. He is obsessed with becoming a father, which Frieda originally assumes is related to the stress that he and his wife are under trying to conceive. Quickly though she realizes that his obsession is not with becoming a father generally, but with becoming the father on one, very specific, five-year-old boy. Alan has visions of a boy that are crystal clear: what he looks like, what toys he favors, his personality and his exact age: five and a half.

The clarity of these visions startles Frieda, but it is not until a small boy who fits the exact description of Alan’s yearned-for son goes missing from his primary school, that she becomes alarmed. Tormented by thoughts that Alan may have taken the boy, Frieda goes to the police.

Frazzled and under enormous pressure to find the missing boy, the lead detective on the case, Karlsson, lashes out of Frieda for bringing him these unsubstantiated claims about Alan. He is on the verge of throwing her out when she mentions that Alan had a similar “attack” 22 years earlier, but that time, Frieda tells Karlsson, he had been obsessed with being the father of a five-year-old girl.

This stops Karlsson in his tracks. The only case in all of London that police analysts have linked to the missing boy was a 22-year-old cold case of a missing girl named Joanna. Although largely unsure how Alan’s visions, Frieda notes, the cold case and the missing boy all fit together, Karlsson feels convinced they connect and are currently his only lead. He makes an agreement with Frieda, if he investigates Alan, would she be willing to analyze Joanna’s sister — Rose, now 30 — who was with the little girl when she went missing, to see if a repressed memory of the abduction is lingering in her subconscious.

Everything about this agreement is unsettling to Frieda, the missing boy, Alan, and the non-traditional therapy with Rose, but she agrees with Karlsson; there really seems to be something connecting these people and events and she cannot turn her back.

 

 

 

The Witch Elm by Tana French (2018)

the witch elm

Toby Hennessy is a lucky man, even he would freely admit to it. The first 28 years of his life had been trauma (and drama) free. He grew up in a loving family that happened to have plenty of money to help ease his way through life. He was educated, well-employed, and in love with a wonderful woman. In fact, things had always gone so smoothly for Toby, that he often found he could bend the rules — just a bit, here and there — without consequences. Until, of course, his luck changed.

In short order, Toby intentionally defrauds his employer and is caught. Then, he is brutally attacked and left for dead inside his Dublin apartment. When he wakes, life as he has known it is over.

The attack severely injured Toby’s brain, leaving him partially paralyzed, unable to talk without slurring, and nearly incapable of  processing information or making decisions. Additionally, he is suffering from PTSD and crippling anxiety caused by knowing that the men who attacked him have not been caught by the police. After weeks of care, Toby leaves the hospital hardly recognizable to his family and friends.

When months pass and his recovery is stalling out and his mental health deteriorating quickly, Toby begins to worry that he may not be able to survive the world on his own. Then, a call from a cousin changes everything.

Their beloved Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer and needs someone to live with him and help care for him in his final months. The family wants Toby to move to Hugo’s large ancestral manor house outside of the city to become his Uncle’s companion.

Toby initially refuses, certain that his inability to care for himself precludes him from caring for Hugo. Once persuaded that he was the only one for the job, he agrees. Although the change is grueling: new routines, larger house and grounds to maneuver, new things to learn and try to remember, Toby finds himself relaxing for the first time since the attack.

Being back in the beloved Ivy House with a favorite uncle is healing in ways he never expected. Both men are struggling to walk, talk, and remember, but together they create simple and calm routines that suit them both. Away from the city, Toby’s fears about crime diminish and having to care for his uncle keeps the worst of his anxieties at bay.

Toby is — almost, almost — lulled into complacency once again. He feels that this new life might be manageable and he might just recover after all. Everything bad that could happen, has, he believes. Things can only improve. Of course, he is wrong again.

When the remains of a missing person are found in the gardens at Ivy House, the entire family is thrown into chaos. No one, more than Toby; whose fragile mental state, shoddy memory, and physical limitations grow worse as the police investigation unfolds.

Slowly, connections between Toby’s past, his attack in the summer, the body begin to form. Is it possible that the robbery on his apartment was not random? Could the body be connected to something Toby did as a younger man; one of those pranks he brushed off as harmless? Most importantly, can the damaged, fragile Toby handle the new nightmares that were coming his way?

Tana French is a wonderful author, but one whose work I do not always connect with. (I love her book The Likeness, reviewed here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-32E ). This book, although slow to start, is worth sticking with through the twists and turns. (Be warned: some of her “how I did it” speeches are long-winded.) Her flawed, damaged main character adds a layer of complexity to the story and the setting and atmosphere — the crumbling manor house, the start of chilly Autumn — are spot on. Enjoy!