All The Missing Girls
I like mystery novels. During my time at AAR I’ve given 7 DIKs to suspense novels and 11 B pluses. To romantic suspense novels I’ve given 10 B pluses and two DIKs. Given that they only make up a small portion of what I review, that’s a pretty good record. It’s a shame I won’t be adding All the Missing Girls to that list.
The story starts with a text message between siblings. Daniel informs Nic that the money is gone and their father is in bad shape, so the family home needs to be sold. It’s a brief interaction but by the end we can tell that Nicolette (Nic) and Daniel Farrell have an uncomfortable relationship. Nicolette agrees to come home but unknown to Daniel it’s for a different reason entirely. She has received a note from their dad which simply says I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl. Given that her best friend has been missing for ten years and her alcoholic father has lost touch with reality badly enough to be in a care home, Nic figures she’d better get back to Cooley Ridge and find out just what that missive means and what the heck her father is telling people.
If you were annoyed by my switching between Nicolette and Nic in the above paragraph, welcome to the club. I found it pretty annoying as I read the book. The name change is (I think) meant to serve as a delineation between who our heroine was and whom she has reinvented herself as. Nic is the sister of Daniel, small town girl from the bad part of town, with questionable taste in friends and lovers. Nicolette is the successful college grad who lives in Philadelphia and has a rich fiancé who’s a lawyer. Nicolette has never introduced anyone from her new life to anyone in her old life. She likes to keep them separate.
That’s because Nic didn’t leave Cooley Ridge so much as flee it. Her best friend, Corinne, disappeared without a trace a decade ago, on the night of a local fair. The investigation at that time focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, her boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend, Jackson, who were Corrine’s known “crowd”. Annaleise Carter, Nic’s neighbor, served as the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. She testified that she saw everyone else leave while Corrine remained behind at the fair. Since Corrine’s body has never been found and she was a troubled teen, it has been assumed she left and simply never contacted anyone. But whatever did happen that night was enough to cause Nic to escape.
Now all the suspects are back together. Daniel and his wife, Laura, have made a home in Cooley Ridge and are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise. Nic is living at her dad’s home once more, albeit temporarily. Then, within days of her return, Annaleise goes missing. Once more Corrine’s crowd finds themselves under suspicion.
I had several problems with this novel but the largest is easily the way the story is told. It’s told backwards. We start at the beginning, with the text message and letter that bring Nic home, but then we jump to Day 15 and work our way to the evening of Day 1, where the whole story is laid out for us. I’m good with time jumps and am especially fond of authors such as Rachel Hore and Suzanna Kearsley who utilize this method. It doesn’t work here simply because it makes the story nonsensical. A key would appear that got Nic into an important location but I had no idea where the key had come from. Rather than concentrating on what was happening, I would get hung up on the how and why of her entering that location and having the key to do so. So the time jump proved more distracting than suspenseful. That sort of thing happens repeatedly in the story.
Another issue lay with the narrator. Suffering from what I term the Gone Girl effect, Nic is meant to be an unreliable raconteur; someone whom we think is as likely to be the culprit as the victim. The main reason that doesn’t work is because of how it gets tangled in the time jump. It had this reader spending too much time second guessing what was going on and too little time actually engaged in reading the mystery. Most stories don’t bear up under the kind of scrutiny long pauses to think invite, and this one is no exception. Combined, the two writing tricks really derail the pacing of the tale.
The author’s coy attempts to keep the reader in suspense had another affect; I was unable to connect with the characters. I was completely ambivalent about Nic and found myself disliking the hero, Tyler. I kept wishing that Nic would leave him – and the other crazies in Cooley Ridge – to deal with their own problems. Which pretty much means the romance as well as the mystery was a bust.
Surprisingly, what saved the tale from being a complete loss, and therefore receiving a D or an F, was re-reading it backwards. I started with Day 1 and worked my way to Day 15. This gave me a chance to re-examine the book without being distracted by the gimmicky writing used by the author. In this light, character decisions and behavior made sense. The question of, “What the hell is happening here?” took a back seat to relationship development; everyone seemed far less odd and far more real when the events were seen in consequential order. The problem is, when you read from Day 1 to Day 15, the suspense aspect is mostly absent.
I think if Ms. Miranda had stuck with a traditional timeline to tell All the Missing Girls she would have delivered a decent novel. Alas, she got a bit too creative with her writing and lost her story along the way.