Mysterious Press, 2015, 384 pages
Everyone in the quiet Jersey Shore town of Silver Bay knows the story: on a Sunday evening in September 1991, Ramsey Miller threw a blowout block party, then murdered his beautiful wife and three-year-old daughter. But everyone is wrong. The daughter got away. Now she is nearly eighteen and tired of living in secrecy. Under the name Melanie Denison, she has spent the last fifteen years in small-town West Virginia as part of the Witness Protection Program. She has never been allowed to travel, go to a school dance, or even have internet at home. Precautions must be taken at every turn, because Ramsey Miller was never caught and might still be looking for his daughter. Yet despite strict house rules, Melanie has entered into a relationship with a young teacher at the local high school and is now ten weeks pregnant. She doesn't want her child to live in hiding as she has had to. Defying her guardians and taking matters into her own hands, Melanie returns to Silver Bay in hopes of doing what the authorities have failed to do: find her father before he finds her. Weaving in Ramsey's story in the three days leading up to the brutal crime, Before He Finds Her is a stirring novel about love and faith and fear-and how the most important things can become terribly distorted when we cling to them too fiercely.
Michael Kardos's ability to keep the tension going in this book relied on a lot of "But wait, there's more!" plot gimmicks, but they actually worked, for the most part. Before He Finds Her started testing my credulity early, but I had a suspicion there would be a twist or two to explain that things were not what they seemed, and I was right. Except there was a twist in nearly every chapter. He kept me going, though I admit that at about the midway point, I thought he was going to veer into an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, and by the end, the twists, revelations, and more twists felt a bit like one of those really overworked episodes of Cold Case.
The 17-year-old protagonist, Melanie Denison, has been raised in hiding by her aunt and uncle. When she was a toddler, her father murdered her mother and attempted to kill her. He's still out there, never found and never captured, and as long as he's on the loose, Melanie's life is in danger. She's been living under a fake name, and her uncle and aunt have never allowed her to get a driver's license, or even a library card, for fear of being "in the system."
If you're starting to see the cracks in the narrative, there will be more.
Despite her hyperprotectice aunt and uncle, Melanie does what you'd expect a repressed 17-year-old who wants a life to do: starts getting illicit library cards, looking things up on the Internet, dates a high school teacher, and gets pregnant.
She's quite the little rebel, our Nancy Drew. So she decides to go back to where she was born, and where her mother died, and find out what really happened.
The story makes use of flashbacks from the point of view of many other characters: Melanie's father, her mother, and their friends and neighbors. Eventually a picture forms of the sequence of events, except every time you think the story has settled into telling us what really happened, there is another twist. Most of them worked. A few of them did stretch credibility a little, but eventually everything is put together for us, and Melanie gets (almost) all the answers she needs.
Solidly entertaining, a book that would probably make an okay movie, and I liked all the little plot contrivances, though they may annoy some readers. Melanie is awfully mature and capable for a 17-year-old with basically zero life experience, while some of the other characters become very stupid or extreme at plot-convenient moments. But I read this book because I really liked the first book I read by Kardos, and I find his stories to be not deep or brilliant, but plot candy for a quick read.
Also by Michael Kardos: My review of Bluff.
My complete list of book reviews.