Monday 14 October 2019

Gone missing in suburbia

Crime: Not That I Could Tell, Jessica Strawser, Hodder & Stoughton, €17.05

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser
Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

breda brown

How well do you really know your neighbours? That's the question posed in this second novel from US author Jessica Strawser.

In a well-heeled Ohio suburb, six female neighbours gather around a barbecue one Saturday evening to enjoy a rare social occasion without the children. They consist of the stay-at-home mum, the military wife, the same-sex parents of a new-born, the single newcomer and the 'nearly' divorcee.

They drink too much wine, chat into the small hours and share secrets they later wish they hadn't. By Monday morning, Kristin, the 'nearly' divorcee, is missing, along with her two young children.

Although in the midst of divorcing her doctor husband, Kristin seemed to have it all - adorable twins, great friends, a good job and the perfect house - so no one can understand why she has suddenly disappeared. More importantly, did she leave of her own accord, or was she taken against her will?

As a police investigation gets under way, the remaining neighbours try to figure out if something was amiss on the last evening they were together and, if so, why they didn't notice. As the plot progresses and the neighbours learn more about Kristin and her past, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew her at all. More questions than answers arise and layers of secrets erupt that strike right at the heart of this close-knit community.

Although it features a police investigation into a missing person, this is more of a slow-burn psychological drama dealing with a range of issues - female friendship, unrequited love, grief, domestic abuse. Strawser's ear for dialogue means the writing flows well and her characters are very relatable. After a strong start though, it loses its way with unnecessary subplots. I persevered but by the time the reveal took place, it felt like an anti-climax.

If a leisurely narrative with strong character insights is your bag, then this fits the bill.

Sunday Independent

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