REVIEW: THE DAUGHTER, BY JANE SHEMILT

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

Alternating narratives take the reader through the past and the present in The Daughter. Jenny struggles to move beyond what has happened to her daughter, but she is unable to do so. Thoughts of her relationship with Naomi and those last fateful days before her daughter disappeared seem to consume her.

She spends her time in the family cottage, isolated, but slowly she begins to reach out to others. Helping an ailing neighbor next door reminds her of her nurturing qualities and what is missing in her life, offering an alternative to focusing on her loss.

As the story continues, we start uncovering more pieces to the puzzle of Naomi’s disappearance, and see beneath the perfect exterior of the characters’ lives. Lies, secrets, and unexpected events kept me reading, although I felt frustrated by the slow unwinding of a tome that could have kept me glued to the pages. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: TWO GIRLS DOWN, BY LOUISA LUNA

 

As addictive, cinematic, and binge-worthy a narrative as The Wire and The Killing, Two Girls Down introduces Louisa Luna as a thriller writer of immense talent and verve.

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls.

Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing Oxycontin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

 

My Thoughts: Alice Vega is an interesting character: tough, vulnerable, damaged, and with a great track record for finding missing people. Two Girls Down first shows her in her home in Central California as she goes through her yoga routine. We follow her thoughts as she connects with someone who wants to hire her to find two missing girls in the Pennsylvania small town of Denville.

Jamie Brandt knows she is not the best mother. She is impatient and feels burdened by the task of rearing her two girls, Kylie, 10, and Bailey, 8. But she is devastated by the loss of them, and we watch her go through the emotional wringer over the days that follow.

Once Vega arrives and connects with the police, she realizes she must find another way, since they are “locking her out,” claiming they don’t work with civilians. She finds a PI named Max Caplan, a former cop, and the two of them take on the task together.

Alternating narratives take us along for the ride as they find potential suspects, people who might have connected with the girls. They watch videos of the scene where they disappeared; they talk to witnesses; and connect the dots. Eventually the police and FBI let them in, and the collaboration is often frustrating, but productive.

Their search takes them to the ramshackle homes of druggies and dealers…and then, finally, to some wealthy habitats where the darkest secrets hide. What will they discover? Who is behind the elaborate taking of the two young girls, and how do their kidnappings connect to others in the state? An engaging story that was sometimes confusing to follow, this one earned 4 stars.***