Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2017, 340 pages
Charlie Donlea, one of the most original new voices in suspense, returns with a haunting novel, laden with twists and high tension, about two abducted girls - one who returns, one who doesn't - and the forensics expert searching for answers.
Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are both high school seniors in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. When they disappear from a beach party one warm summer night, police launch a massive search. No clues are found, and hope is almost lost until Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the woods. A year later the best-selling account of her ordeal has turned Megan from local hero to national celebrity. It's a triumphant, inspiring story except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing.
Nicole's older sister, Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole's body will be found, and it will be up to someone like Livia to analyze the evidence and finally determine her sister's fate. Instead the first clue to Nicole's disappearance comes from another body that shows up in Livia's morgue - that of a young man connected to Nicole's past. Livia reaches out to Megan for help, hoping to learn more about the night the two were taken. Other girls have gone missing, too, and Livia is increasingly certain the cases are connected. But Megan knows more than she revealed in her blockbuster book. Flashes of memory are coming together, pointing to something darker and more monstrous than her chilling memoir describes. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you've been looking for.
The most notable thing about this story was that thriller and mystery authors are finally acknowledging that cell phones are hard to ignore in the modern day and you can't just conveniently have the plot always take place out of cell phone range. So texts and social media play a part in this story of a serial killer who abducts girls to take to a love shack in the woods.
A couple of years ago, two such girls were taken in close proximity to one another. One was Nicole Cutty, a popular, catty girl; the other was Megan McDonald, one of Nicole's classmates, who somehow escaped from her abductor, traumatized and with few memories, but otherwise unharmed.
Nicole was never found. Megan writes a book about her ordeal — actually, the book is ghostwritten, and most of her account is made up since she didn't actually remember much. But Megan is still psychologically scarred and trying to find out what really happened. So is Nicole's older sister, Livia, who became a forensic pathologist as a result of her sister's disappearance.
As Megan begins remembering things, and Livia begins following clues, they uncover a group of thrill-seeking "abduction junkies," and the author jumps back and forth between past and present to show the reader what happened prior to Nicole and Megan's abductions. We learn that Megan was a nice, straight-laced girl, while Nicole was kind of a bitch. Thus there is lots of teenage relationship drama, all meant to throw red herrings about who the real abductor and killer is and what really happened to both Nicole and Megan.
Did it work? It was okay. The clues were laid down rather heavy-handedly in the last part, and all of the characters tended towards superficial collections of personality traits. This was a fairly standard thriller with okay writing and a few twists that made it interesting, but nothing special.
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