Synopsis from the book:
Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When overwhelming tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns a local teenage girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.
This book is written so poetically, you can’t rush through reading it. This is a book to be savored. From the outset it is obvious that the main character, Anna, carries a lot of emotional trauma around with her. It is what has made her successful in solving missing persons cases. She is able to take her experiences, her grief, her counseling and her instinct into each investigation. She is singularly focused, which has taken a huge toll on her personal life.
“For the longest time I stand on Lansing street, thinking about beauty and terror. Evil. Grace. Suffering. Joy. How they’re all here every day, everywhere. Teaching us how to keep stepping forward into our lives, our purpose.”
Anna runs to Mendocino, a place where her upended life finally found some peace, to deal with a recent tragedy that is only hinted at. It isn’t until the last part of the book that the nature of the tragedy she is running from is revealed. Knowing that she is emotionally raw when returning to Mendocino led me to understand why she would jump headfirst into a missing child investigation. Better to spend time unraveling someone else’s potential mistakes. Each revelation about Anna’s past enforced the believability that she could easily put herself in the victim’s place. The clues presented in the book were more from Anna’s instincts than actual physical evidence.
Much of the book is written about nature and the ways in which Anna’s adopted father taught her to love and respect the woods around their house. The author’s descriptions of the landscape is so immersive that I could feel the sun shining on my face through the canopy of trees. Chapters full of scenic descriptions may be off-putting to readers more interested in the thriller aspect of the story, but that was one of the things I appreciated most about this book. It is a “slow burn” – not because it is boring – far from it – more because the author placed each word lovingly in this book and I wanted to absorb each one.
The subject matter is tough, and could be a trigger for some. With the introduction of an actual missing child case in the mix of the investigations Anna was involved in, I could appreciate that the author was giving a voice to this family and community, and the way they were able to band together in the midst of devastation and develop methods to improve future searches. It is definitely worth reading the afterword for more information about the Klaas family and the impact their efforts have had on missing child cases.
The ending happened just a little too suddenly and the beginning was a tad confusing, hence 4, rather than 5 stars for me. Overall though, the book was so beautifully written and the processes that Anna used to investigate anyone involved were believable and consistent. Paula McLain definitely used her well developed research skills to develop the methods and background Anna possessed.
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House – Ballantine for allowing me to read and review an advance copy.
Unhesitatingly recommend. Pub date: April, 2021.