Desert Isle Keeper
Right now is the era of the psychological thriller. And the nice thing is that most of the books being published are not the Gone Girl copycats that will soon be appearing on our shelves. They are (in my opinion) novels by writers who had always intended to write a disturbing, misleading mystery and who had the luck of extraordinary timing in submitting their pieces. This debut novel is an excellent example of the quality available on the market.
For Rachel Walsh it starts as an ordinary Monday. As crime correspondent for National News Network, her typical is to begin the day on the run, racing into the local police precinct to pick up information on the latest tragedy to hit the city. That Monday the briefing she attends completely blindsides her: the missing woman is Clara O’Connor, a person with whom she has history. Lots of history.
Told as a letter to Clara from Rachel, we learn how that Monday completely changes the world as Rachel knows it. The early moments of that morning are full of shock, as something that Rachel should have known and didn’t, is revealed to her in a room full of competitors. The fog from the surprise doesn’t really lift as Rachel finds herself going through the motions on air, robotically asking questions of the chief investigator. As she leaves the station she is thrown back in memory to just two days before, the last time she had spoken to Clara.
The phone conversation between the two had begun with light banter – the exchange of simple, post-evening, on-the-town updates that are special only to the people speaking. But quickly Rachel feels the conversation drift to the dark side as her innocent questions are treated like an interrogation and she finds herself agreeing to an evening out simply to appease her now frustrated friend. The evening will include meeting up with some of Clara’s old chums from school, people with whom Rachel definitely did not get along.
The meet-up never takes place. Rachel receives a text message from Clara saying she’s sick and will be late. And that’s the last she hears from her. But it is certainly not the last she hears of her. As Rachel investigates the case of her missing friend we slowly start to see the complicated tangle that is their past and the emotionally-charged conundrum that is their present. We watch all the players who are part of their dark tangled knot move back and forth between the two, caught in the web of whatever fate holds them so tightly together. And we realize why escape is never really an option for either woman.
This is one of those times that I really don’t know what to say because I am so afraid of spoiling the story for other readers. So where to begin? The author does an excellent job of laying her ground work, introducing a dangerous undertone right from the start. The two characters are carefully brought to life, each piece of information hoarded for just the right moment to reveal it. We meet up with Rachel and Clara when they are already adults but as we watch their grown up friendship play out we realize that important pieces to the puzzle are missing. Certain of their interactions make no sense based on the intel we have. That changes as we are given flashbacks from their childhood that at first seem insignificant but eventually lead us to an explosive reveal. Through each page we watch the characters come into sharper and sharper focus and as that happens we realize that what we believed at the beginning might or might not be the truth. I became quite anxious to just finish and learn what was what but when I reached the end I found myself reeling at the reality presented and questioning it. Was there ever even a truth for me to learn?
One of the brilliant aspects of the story is that it is based so much on the mundane. Most girls have BFFs. Most women are familiar with mean girls and the hell they make junior high and high school. We all have families and most of those families have problems. Yet simple bad errors in judgment, desperate things we do to get out of horrible situations can turn the mundane into the macabre. It is easy to see that that has happened here – that each character’s bad choice becomes a domino in a game where everyone and everything seems to fall apart. Will there be a last man standing? And will that person deserve to be the lone survivor? Impossible to answer since this book echoes the dark side of real life and real life is rarely fair, neat or tidy.
The characters here are brilliant as well. The story is told from Rachel’s point of view. On the surface she is a successful beautiful woman with a great job and great man in her life. Under that lies the young girl whose mother never loved her, who was overweight and often tormented by the kids at school. A large part of her close friendship with Clara is the gratitude that a girl as lovely as that ever befriended her. Beyond the gratitude is something that we can’t quite grasp but becomes more and more present as we read their story.
A loving father and natural beauty were Clara’s gifts in her youth. She had middle class financial security that clashed with Rachel’s hardscrabble, poverty ridden life. Yet Clara comes across as a bit fragile and flaky, needy but with an edge of snarky and nasty. Even as Rachel tells us that Clara is this wonderful, charming creature we don’t get that impression from how Clara is in the present. As we watch the two interact in the past we begin to wonder – has Clara changed or does the fact that we are seeing her through Rachel’s eyes mean we are never really seeing her clearly at all?
Would I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers at all this is a wonderful tale. A story of how that which is most precious to us can also be what is most dangerous for us.