Desert Isle Keeper
The Night She Disappeared
I discovered Lisa Jewell’s books in the spring of 2017 and was instantly hooked. She writes psychological thrillers that delve deeply into the intricacies of human, especially familial, relationships. The Night She Disappeared, her latest novel, is a perfect example of all the things Ms. Jewell does right, and I found myself captivated from start to finish.
Kim Knox doesn’t like babies, but that doesn’t keep her from doting on her one-year-old grandson Noah. He might disrupt her nights with his sleepless grumblings on a regular basis, but he brightens Kim’s days. She’s proud of how her daughter Tallulah has risen to the challenges of being a teen mum and how Tallulah’s boyfriend Zach has stepped up as well, proving to be a sweet, devoted father. They are all living with her and her seventeen-year-old son Ryan. The house has been a bit full, but Kim has enjoyed the feeling of being a large, happy family.
When Tallulah and Zach ask to have a date night, Kim doesn’t mind. She’s a young grandma and it is normally her going out of an evening and the teenagers staying home to care for the baby, so it’s not like they ask often. She winds up falling asleep on the couch with Noah lying on top of her, secure in her arms. But when Kim awakens at four in the morning, Tallulah and Zach are still gone. She tries calling both their cellphones, but they go straight to voice mail.
Kim spends the next few hours anxiously awaiting the arrival of the morning so she can contact their friends. Tallulah is an extremely responsible, devoted mother and she would never leave Noah this long without at least checking in on him. Every instinct tells Kim something has happened, but looking for Tallulah turns out to be a futile effort, even when she gets the police involved later that day. Kim’s bright, beautiful girl and Zach have seemed to disappear without a trace.
A year later, Sophie Beck moves with her boyfriend to Upfield Common in the Surrey Hills. This is the location of the school, Maypole House, at which he will be working, a place for sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds who’ve flunked their GCSEs and A levels and whose parents can afford to give them additional years of private education to get it right. It’s also a spot for those kids who’ve been expelled from other schools and have nowhere else to go.
Sophie doesn’t concern herself much with the school and its denizens. It’s the lovely, dark woods that surround the place and the spooky old abandoned estate called Dark Place that sit at their edge which she finds so fascinating. As the author of a mildly popular set of mystery books, she’s convinced the locale will prove deeply inspirational for her work.
When she learns of the missing Zach and Tallulah from the villagers, she becomes deeply intrigued by their case and finds herself desperate to learn the truth of what happened the night they seemingly vanished into thin air. And someone seems determined to help her discover just what occurred because a mysterious note appears on her garden gate that reads, “DIG HERE.” When Sophie does, she finds the first clue to the mystery, a small piece of information that will lead her down a dark and dangerous path.
One of Ms. Jewell’s greatest strengths as a writer – and she has many- is her ability to show how unusual events can disrupt ordinary lives. There is nothing really special about Kim, Sophie, Tallulah and Zach – they are average and rather unexciting, although the author turns that into relatable and endearing rather than mundane and boring. But as the story unfurls, she shows us the layers to each character and the complexities of their relationships, revealing that even in these everyday folk, some serious shadows lurk.
The crime centers on one of my favorite themes: simple decisions which shouldn’t be wrong but turn out to be. A person caught up in a moment of passion, a few choices that aren’t mistakes but that turn out to be calamitous – that is all it takes for these two teens to disappear. The tragedy could have been averted if one character in particular had trusted their instincts but the choices they make turn out to be serious errors.
Another positive is the way Ms. Jewell displays the difficulties for young people in drawing the lines on their entanglements. What do you owe a previous partner? How do you handle someone aggressively pursuing you? When does looking out for you cross the line into controlling you? These are tough questions to answer as adults, and for someone just taking their first steps into grownup relationships the boundaries can seem near impossible to understand.
I thoroughly appreciated that Sophie and Kim aren’t super sleuths but that someone is very emphatically feeding them the clues that lead to the denouement. They go to the police with all their discoveries and the proper authorities do the follow through, which made the solving of the crime seem very believable.
I also just loved our two sleuths’ personalities. Kim is perfect as a mother and grandmother facing an absolutely horrible situation with grace, tenacity, and dignity. She is a warm, generous, thoughtful, and committed mother and I found how she cares for Noah while still being thoroughly involved with the search for Zach and Tallulah, and keeping the missing teens very much in the public’s mind absolutely wonderful.
Sophie is terrific as well. She has some handy skills for putting clues together to give to the police, but she isn’t Wonder Woman and doesn’t see this as her case to solve. She is very supportive of however Kim chooses to handle each piece of the puzzle they’re given and very much takes a backseat to the mum and cops running the show.
There are gay characters in this novel, and as in real life and with all people, some are good and some are less so. One of the issues the narrative examines is how complicated falling in love, and being in love can be, and the mistakes we make trying to get it all right. The author does a good job showing that love stories can be minefields, especially for the young.
My only quibble with the tale comes at almost the very end and because it is in deep spoiler territory, I will have to discuss it in only the most generic of manners. Let’s say a happy result that takes place seemed completely unbelievable. It felt more likely that the people who had gone such lengths to keep their secrets would have dealt with this particular loose end in a different, more severe manner.
Other than that tiny criticism, I thoroughly enjoyed the lovely prose, fascinating characters and complex mystery of The Night She Disappeared. If you are looking for a character driven suspense novel with some surprising twists and turns, this may be the perfect book for you.