Half Moon Bay
I absolutely loved Alice LaPlante’s debut novel, Turn of Mind. It contained pretty much everything I love about psychological thrillers, so I jumped at the chance to review Ms. LaPlante’s latest offering, Half Moon Bay. Unfortunately however, this book proved to be a huge disappointment.
Jane O’Malley has lost the two people she loves most in the world. Her teenaged daughter was killed in a senseless automobile accident, and Jane’s marriage disintegrated not long afterwards, leaving her alone and desolate. At first, Jane does nothing but wallow in her pain, but she finally realizes she needs to find a way to move on with her life so she leaves Berkley and settles instead in the small town of Half Moon Bay, a place where no one knows her story. She seems to expect things to magically get better once she arrives in town, but of course, that isn’t the way things work out. Jane continues to be utterly unmoored by her losses, spending her time roaming local beaches and riding her motorcycle into San Francisco. She connects with no one, thinking this will shield her from further pain.
As time passes, Jane slowly begins to engage more fully with the world around her. She gets a job working with Plantes at a local nursery. She’s far from a social butterfly, but she forms a few tentative friendships. Things obviously aren’t perfect, but it seems like they are starting to look up.
Then, the first young girl is abducted and murdered. Everyone Jane knows seems shaken by the tragedy, and there’s a part of Jane that feels a small amount of pleasure at the thought of others living through the unspeakable pain she endures on a daily basis. But when more children begin disappearing and the suspicions of the townspeople are fastened on Jane, she is forced to look beyond her own struggles in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the numerous disappearances.
In the midst of all of this, Edward and Alma arrive in town. They’re a charismatic couple who take Jane under their wing almost immediately. Jane doesn’t trust people easily these days, but there’s something about the couple that calls to her, and before long, she finds it hard to imagine her life without them in it. The reader knows pretty much from the start that something is off about Alma and Edward, but it’s equally clear Jane idolizes them.
The story gets pretty murky at this point. It seems like Edward and his wife might have something to do with the missing children, but it’s hard to know for sure, especially since we see things exclusively through Jane’s eyes. Unreliable narrators are all the rage in today’s thrillers, and I’m usually drawn to books that feature them, but this one is downright confusing. The trauma of losing her husband and daughter has affected Jane’s ability to see things clearly, and Ms. LaPlante’s writing is supposed to reflect the fragmented nature of her reality, whereas in fact, It put me in mind of a very long stream of consciousness exercise. It was almost impossible to understand the order in which certain events took place, and I’m still not sure if some things really happened at all or if our heroine just imagined them.
I’m not someone who has to like the people I’m reading about, but I do have to have some understanding of what motivates them. Sadly, Ms. LaPlante doesn’t offer readers much insight into her characters at all. I came away from reading this book with the feeling I had only skimmed the surface of most of them, a most unsatisfying feeling. I love immersing myself in the hearts and minds of the characters, but that wasn’t possible here.
There are a couple of twists near the end of the book that simply don’t make sense. They did take me by surprise, it’s true, but not in a good way. since they seemed to come out of left field. Some authors can pull off twists like these in a way that feels authentic, but Ms. LaPlante’s attempt comes off as forced. I got the impression she was trying to shock me, but she managed to put me off instead.
By the time I reached the end of the book, I honestly didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I just wanted to move on to something more fulfilling, and so, I cannot recommend Half Moon Bay. It’s a book with a lot of potential, but the execution is clumsy, and readers are likely to be frustrated rather than enthralled by its many twists and turns.