Since You've Been Gone
The spine of Since You’ve Been Gone reads “fiction” and it is clearly billed as a work of suspense, rather than the hybrid called “romantic suspense.” While it does contain a romance, the story’s focus is not on the love story but on the main character’s efforts to save a kidnapped child.
Rebecca Ryan has had ESP ever since she was nine, when she was injured in the car accident that killed her father. Her ability enabled her to find missing things and solve crimes for the people of her small West Virginia home town, but it also made her the target of resentment and superstitious fear. When she was a teenager, her brother Johnnie was kidnapped, and Rebecca’s powers deserted her. She was unable to find him or help him, and was devastated by loss and failure when his murdered body was found.
Now, several years later, Rebecca has returned to Sinclair, West Virginia after years of living in New Orleans. As soon as she arrives in town she has a vision of a child being kidnapped. This time the victim is her cousin’s small son, Todd. Will Rebecca’s ESP lead her to him, or will she fail once again?
It takes a bit of time to figure out the web of Rebecca’s complicated family relationships, but I found these to be the most interesting part of the book. We get to know her alcoholic mother, her saintly stepfather, her troubled stepbrother and his nasty wife, and a host of others, all of whom are potential suspects. We also meet Dr. Clay Bellamy, whom Rebecca loved when she was younger, and who helps her examine clues.
The mystery in this book was interesting and the solution made sense. That said, I didn’t find it terribly gripping, or all that scary, either, and those who are disturbed by scenes of violence against children might want to avoid it. Rebecca’s ESP is a troublesome sort of gift – it functions more as a plot device than anything else, generally leading her to clues and crimes only when it’s too late to do anything about them. What I liked better was how intelligently the author fit Rebecca into the small-town culture of Sinclair. Her relationships with her mother, cousin, and other family members and townspeople are complex and sometimes conflicted, and I found them very believable.
When there is a romance in a suspense novel, it often takes a back seat to the plot. In this case, the romance is not in the back seat but locked in the trunk, where it occasionally taps the firewall to remind us that it’s still there. Clay, Rebecca’s love interest, is one of the few characters in this book who never comes alive as a three-dimensional person at all. He seems less real than, for instance, Rebecca’s dog Sean, whose personality is much more vividly portrayed. Clay just seems to be there to give Rebecca someone to tell her theories to; I was unmoved by the news that they were in love.
Since You’ve Been Gone is a readable suspense novel. It wasn’t really compelling, but it was well-written and featured some very effective scenes, especially those between the main character and her family. If you’re in the mood for a book that’s a little scary but won’t keep you up at night, you might want to pick it up.