Charlie Donlea’s book begins with an abduction and an escape, immediately ramping up the tension.
Two high school graduates attend an end of summer beach party in their home town of Emerson Lake, a small North Carolina beach community. Megan and Nicole are not friends but neither returns home after the party. Despite extensive searches, what happened to them remains a mystery. Then Megan returns, stumbling onto a highway from a bunker hidden deep in the woods but she knows nothing about what happened to Nicole or where she might be.
The narrative runs both backwards and forwards in time, gradually filling in some of the details but leaving plenty for the reader to work out for themselves. As well as time shifts, the story also shifts viewpoints – in part from the perspective of Nicole’s older sister Livia, a forensic pathologist fellow and part a third-person narrative filling in the details of the girls’ lives before the abduction. This approach results in a somewhat slow start to the novel but stay with it as it is well worth the effort.
Megan writes a book about her abduction and escape and , becomes a national celebrity. Giving interviews on her book tour makes her feel guilty as no one seems interested in talking about Nicole who is still missing – everyone wants to concentrate on the ‘feel good’ side of the story. Livia has taken the fellowship in forensic pathology precisely because Nicole is still missing and a seemingly unrelated body which she autopsies starts her down a perilous path to the truth.
Livia contacts Megan and, as they begin to work together to solve the mystery, Megan begins to remember more about her abduction. Avoiding any spoilers, I can say that the interests of the group of young people the girls come into contact with, and the fetishes of those involved in the abductions, struck me as bizarre and hard to believe. However, as we know from the daily news, there are some truly weird people out there who are able to find like-minded people via the Internet. Donlea’s powerful writing makes their behaviour all too believable.
The story is an intriguing mystery which reveals clues at a steady pace if the reader is paying close attention but the ending is somewhat abrupt. I frequently experience this feeling with Whodunits – the book runs for 300+ pages and the denouement takes fewer than five, but I would still recommend it.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 7
Released by: Penguin Australia
Release Date: April 2017