Desert Isle Keeper
Then She Was Gone
I’ve been looking forward to Ms. Jewell’s Then She Was Gone since I finished the last page of her stellar I Found You. It did not disappoint. A tale of a missing girl, a mother’s shattered life and the gradual rebuilding of a family, this twisting, turning mystery will have you reading into the wee hours of the morning.
Mothers shouldn’t have favorites, but Laurel did. Ellie, her tumultuous teenage daughter, who lacked the surliness of her sister and the indifference of her brother was Laurel’s golden girl. At fifteen, Ellie was dating the best-looking boy in her school and getting top marks in all her classes. When she disappeared, the police spoke of runaways, but Laurel has never really believed that. Why would someone who had everything leave it all behind?
Ten years after Ellie’s disappearance, a divorced Laurel is living half a life. She works three days a week at something she doesn’t find very important. She’s moved to a dull, undecorated flat where she does little more than run the hoover once a week to maintain it. She cleans her daughter Hannah’s apartment weekly, speaks to her even less often than that. She doesn’t speak to her son and hasn’t met his partner. She makes cursory visits to her mom at the hospice, but Laurel’s life is grey and dull and pointless. It reflects perfectly how she feels.
Then she gets the phone call.
Ellie’s rucksack has been found. A few days later there is a second call: Ellie’s remains have been found. There is a funeral and Laurel feels as though by burying Ellie she has been given a second chance at her own life. She gets her hair done. She meets a charming man and lets him take her to dinner. She takes steps to reconnect with Hannah. She apologizes to her ex for refusing to live the last ten years, and for hating him for being able to. She plans a big family birthday bash to reconnect them all. Laurel is finally, finally recovering. Until she meets her new man’s nine-year old daughter. A girl who looks surprisingly like Ellie. Who uses some of the same quirky figures of speech Ellie did. Who has her daughter’s shine and spirit. Laurel thought she had left the dark times behind her, but has she unwittingly invited them back through her door?
Sometimes I finish a book and just think, ‘Wow!’ This was one of those times. While the story got off to a slightly quiet (yet intriguing) start, by midway through the book I just couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t wait to finally figure out what had happened to Ellie and what the heck was going on now.
The author does an excellent job of getting the reader invested in the characters. I was especially impressed with Laurel. She could have been a woman easy to judge; she had, after all, discarded her living family in favor of her missing daughter. Yet we see how sorry Laurel is for the years she let her grief control her, and we also see how very damaged she is because of what she endured. We admire her tenacity, her unwillingness to let go and we dream of having a champion like that in our own lives. Laurel is nuanced and relatable.
The crime centers on one of my favorite themes: simple decisions which shouldn’t be wrong but turn out to be. While the villain is villainous, they are not a super villain or complete freak who defies the standards of humanity. A person gone awry, a few choices that aren’t mistakes but that turn out to be calamitous – that is all it takes for a child to disappear. This tragedy could happen to anyone, which makes it more frightening than supervillainy.
Ms. Jewell is an experienced writer and her prose, plotting and characterization are all superb.
Then She Was Gone is a near perfect novel of suspense. My one quibble is a slightly saccharine ending but that certainly didn’t take anything away from the pleasure of reading this book. I would highly recommend it to fans of the suspense/mystery genre.