It was around this time last year when I reviewed Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me, and in January 2018 Look For Me came under the Fully Booked microscope. These both featured the ‘odd couple’ Flora Dane and DD Warren, but this January the New Hampshire author has produced a standalone thriller – Before She Disappeared.
Centre stage is a woman called Frankie Elkins. She is middle-aged and a recovering alcoholic. Her purpose in life is to find missing people. People who have been taken. People who have just walked away into oblivion. People who the police have made an effort to find, but have given up. This mission may remind British readers of the David Raker books by Tim Weaver (click the link to read more), but Frankie is rather different in that she doesn’t work for a fee. She follows cases on internet message boards and then just ups sticks, and with all her belongings in a suitcase heads of to where the trail went cold. I have to say that this was, initially, a fairly improbable premise. Frankie seems to have no money, little other than the clothes she stands up in, so why would she do this? Stay with it, though, like I did, and there will be an explanation. She carries the burden of a terrible trauma, and Lisa Gardner teases us about its actual nature until quite late in the story, and when we learn what happened, the past has a terrible resonance with the present.
In Before She Disappeared, Frankie goes to Boston, but this isn’t the upper crust Boston of the Kennedy dynasty, Leonard Bernstein or Harvard. She heads for Mattapan, a hard-scrabble and tumbledown district home to thousands of Haitians and other refugees from strife, poverty and natural disasters. Her mission? To find out what happened to Angelique Badeau, The Haitian teenager had been living with her aunt, sent to America after an earthquake devastated her home. One day she set of for school as normal, and nothing has been seen or heard of her since.
As a white woman in Mattapan Frankie is something of a curiosity, but she takes a job in a bar and slowly makes friends. The downside is that as her probing into Angelique’s disappearance starts to uncover some dark secrets, she also makes some serious – and deadly – enemies.
Frankie gains the begrudging trust of a local cop, Detective Lotham, and the pair begin to generate a certain electricity between them. This is, of course, a very handy – but perfectly plausible – plot device,as it enable Frankie to have access to all kinds of information, such as CCTV footage which, as a civilian she would otherwise not have.
The problem for Frankie is that Angelique was almost too good to be true. Studious, punctual, respectful, no boyfriend interest and certainly no connection to the local gangs, there seems to neither rhyme nor reason behind her disappearance. Then, after a more thorough search of the Badeau’s apartment Frankie makes a shocking discovery. She finds a huge stash of cash hidden in the hollow base of a standard lamp. When most of these bills are found to be rather good forgeries, the case swerves in a totally different direction.
I had in the back of my mind the comment, “a typical American thriller.” This is in no way derogatory. In the best of these books there is a slickness, a tight control over the flow of events, a sense of darkness that gives an edge without being too disturbing, and a cinematic quality. Before She Disappeared certainly fits into this slot. It is taut, sharply original and very, very readable. It is published by Century/Penguin Random House and is out now.