Dead and Gone or Alive and Hidden?

Author: Lisa Jewell

It’s 2017. A troubled girl leaves her infant daughter with her mother, going for a celebratory dinner with her boyfriend. The couple met at a fancy restaurant. Everything was going well. Then they left to attend a sumptuous party hosted by local cool-girl, Scarlett Jacques, at her family’s secluded mansion. They were never seen again.

Two years later, the mother, Kim, is raising her grandchild, still searching for her daughter, still wondering how two people can disappear without a trace. Wondering if they got into a fight. Wondering if they are both dead.

At the local college where the ill-fated girl and her friend Scarlett attended, a new professor and his girlfriend are moving in. The girlfriend, a mystery author who cannot concentrate and regrets her move to the country, becomes interested in the local legend. One day, she finds a sign. Dig here. It begins.

The Night She Disappeared, like many mysteries that are star-crossed thrillers, attempts a juggling act of narrators and timelines, mostly to its detriment. One of the timelines is exceptionally interesting. The other, not so much. But the two will commingle, will meet in a third timeline that struggles to find its footing, delivering shocking answers in a slipshod way. The effect is one of mediocrity, a story that is good but is overcome with a lot of material that is all together too obvious or could simply be cut.

Sophie Beck, the professor’s girlfriend turned amateur sleuth, is the weak link in this story. She arrives on scene to effortlessly fall into a story not her own, clues popping up under her nose. It’s too unbelievable, too entirely forced. As clues land, Sophie struggles with her own moribund relationship and makes a connection with the missing girl’s grieving mother. A connection that comes about too easily and results in an unlikely and fortuitous instant-trust. Not believable. Not engaging. Not earned.

But then – then there is the other timeline with Tallulah (aka girl who went missing) and her toxic relationship and sudden motherhood. Tallulah isn’t an exceptionally likable character (no one here really is) but the story of her increasingly fraught relationship is engaging. It goes from the closeness of a childhood friend to a beloved boyfriend to a man turned into an abusive, manipulative almost-finance. It’s relatable and feels all to real. And then Tallulah makes a sudden connection with Scarlett.

Image by NoName_13 from Pixabay

Scarlett herself is nothing but trouble. The typical poor-little-rich girl who effectively creates drama and unhappiness. None of these people are likable, but the mess they create is mystery/thriller worthy. These are the narrative moments we, the readers, live for. This is why we slog through Sophie’s unnecessary chapters and “discovery” of clues.

The conclusion takes us back and forth in time. It’s a bit like riding a leaking ship in the middle of a storm, moments of thrills being taken over by the tedium of baling out everything unnecessary and kitschy. For example. The dire mansion is named “Dark Place,” just incase we didn’t get that it was supposed to be creepy and bad. Sophie is a mystery writer, so she can so totally look at things differently than, say, the police and solve this crime of yesteryear. Yeah. Sure. But the crime itself and the moments where we finally get to what happened: ok, that stuff is sick in a good way. Engaging, if not necessarily worth all the lackluster moments.

In the end, I think Jewell’s books (so far) are just ok. I don’t get the extreme fandom. They are interesting, but the pacing doesn’t seem to have that finesse that a good thriller needs, and there are too many coincidental, fortuitous moments that drop answers in the characters’ laps instead of making them truly engage in the festering world of secrets and betrayal around them. Just ok.

– Frances Carden

Follow my reviews on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/xombie_mistress

Follow my reviews on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/FrancesReviews

Frances Carden
Latest posts by Frances Carden (see all)