A grieving, unstable mother who has lost her teenage daughter relocates to a small town on the coast of northern California in this brooding suspense novel.
Jane O'Malley, whose daughter was killed the year before by a distracted driver and whose husband has left her, moves to Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, to try to make a new life for herself. A former biologist, she works at a plant nursery guiding customers in the use of native plants. In her spare hours, she walks deserted beaches late at night and considers drowning herself. When young girls from the area begin to disappear and then turn up dead a week later, Jane comes under suspicion. Deserted by some of her local friends and bored with others, she forms an increasingly desperate bond with an alluring new couple. Edward, an environmental activist with a taste for lawbreaking, is a “dark archangel” with “a face that would heal wounds.” Alma, a physics professor, is his equal, gorgeous with eyes that are “a strange blue-green, very intense.” Readers looking for a mystery with diverting twists and turns won't find them here. This is a classic story of a woman in jeopardy, with the heroine making one bad, though emotionally credible, decision after another. LaPlante (Coming of Age at the End of Days, 2015, etc.) anchors the plot, and Jane's mood swings and secrets, in a physically real and detailed world. The cozy little town, with its family coffee shop and popular pumpkin festival, is contrasted with the dark, starkly beautiful, and deserted midnight seaside, paralleling the alternation in Jane's mental states. Secondary characters drawn in swift, precise strokes, living their lives largely outside Jane's troubled trajectory, help make this a fully developed novel rather than simply a mood piece.
In a book that's more acute psychological study than thriller, LaPlante uses a seductively dangerous landscape to mirror her heroine's inner life.