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Friday, March 26, 2021

Moody, Broody Psychological Thriller a Gripping Read

(Image from Amazon)

When cancer steals her mother's life before she has even turned sixty, 38-year-old Kal feels surprisingly adrift.  Over the years, she's gotten used to the fact that her mercurial mother never loved her.  Elena MacKenzie had plenty of affection for her younger daughter, Alice, but none for Kal.  Grief-stricken by the loss of a woman she never understood, Kal is thrown for a shocking loop when she finds a stack of mysterious postcards in her mother's things.  Going back more than 20 years, each was written on the same day of the year and signed the same way by the same Canadian woman:  "Thinking of you."  Kal knows Elena studied marine biology in North America before marrying and moving to England, but she knows little about those early years and she's never heard her mother mention a woman named Susannah Gillespie.  Who was this Canadian artist to Elena?  Why did she send a postcard every year?  What's the significance of the date on the cards?  

Already feeling bruised from suspicions that her husband is cheating on her, Kal makes an impulsive decision to travel to British Columbia and find Susannah.  With her toddler in tow, she sets out for remote Spring Tide Island, hoping to find the answers she so desperately seeks.  Meeting Susannah, a potter who claims to have been Elena's best friend, just creates more questions.  The woman, who seems to have been obsessed with Kal's mother, has also formed a strange attachment to Kal's son, 18-month-old Finn.  Despite frantic calls from her husband and warnings from her father to stay away from Susannah, Kal refuses to leave Canada until she understands who her mother was and what happened between her and her old BFF.  The more Kal learns, the more distressed she grows.  Something horrible happened to Elena, that much is clear and—as Kal finally realizes—the past is about to repeat itself if she can't get herself and Finn off the island.  With a storm threatening to cut off all communication with the mainland, Kal will have to risk her own life to save them both. 

Everyone who hangs out around here knows I can't resist an atmospheric thriller.  The moodier and broodier, the better.  The Missing One, a 2014 debut by journalist Lucy Atkins, certainly qualifies.  Atkins does an excellent job painting Spring Tide Island in thick, foggy grays that make it feel cold, isolated, and eerie.  It's a shivery backdrop, perfect for a gripping psychological thriller, which is exactly what The Missing One is.  The book is not an edge-of-your-seat kind of read (at least not until the end), but it is engrossing and compelling.  Overly long, yes, but not boring.  Predictable to a point, indeed, but not without its plot surprises.  As far as characters go, it's tough to find a truly likable one in this story.  They're a pretty messed up group, with plenty of selfish obsessiveness to go around.  While Kal is the most appealing of the bunch, I still found her irrational, whiny, and slow on the uptake.  Still, I definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen to her.  That need to know kept me reading.  In the end, then, I liked The Missing One well enough, but I can't say I loved it.  I'm up for more from Atkins, though, and that's saying a lot.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Peter May, Carol Goodman, and Ruth Ware)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, blood/gore, scenes of peril, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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