A girl is gone and psychologist Dr. Pepper Hunt, the last person to see her alive, joins the investigation in this mystery-franchise debut.
The tag line from the Coen brothers’ classic procedural, Fargo, applies to Doucette’s novel: “A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.” Hunt is a recent transplant to southwest Wyoming and a county “the size of Connecticut where antelope outnumber humans three to one.” She came with a lot of baggage: a jealous patient shot her psychiatrist husband along with his lover, one of Hunt’s friends and colleagues. It was Hunt who found the bodies, and she was considered a suspect. The past comes back to haunt her when Kimi Benally vanishes. The case is all kinds of personal. Benally was Hunt’s first patient when she set up her fledgling practice. Benally’s cousin is Detective Beauregard Antelope, who has had a rocky relationship with Cassandra McKnight, a parole officer and the missing woman’s best friend. Add in a sheriff, who is married to Hunt’s secretary and has some heavy Samsonite of his own: a still-cold case of a woman murdered on his watch. Benally, a local crime reporter, had been covering an at-large serial rapist. Was she kidnapped? Is her four-day (and counting) disappearance tied to her “scumbag husband,” whom she wanted to leave? Or is she a victim of her own “fugue state,” which causes her to space out for hours at a time? Benally’s confidential consults with Hunt gave the psychologist privileged information that she is duty-bound not to share with the sheriff, a source of tension between them. This case can’t help but dredge up Hunt’s own tragic past, adding another layer of intrigue. No Gone Girl clone, this atmospheric mystery makes full use of its beautiful, barren locale. Doucette describes one winter morning as “a robin’s-egg blue bowl of sky above endless trails of new powder sparkling like crushed diamonds.” Spanning Dec. 20 to Jan. 15, with each chapter alternating among character perspectives (first-person for Hunt), the densely populated plot thickens and the body count climbs. Some crucial information is unconvincingly withheld (“I don’t know if I ever told you this…”), and while Hunt is a credible and capable heroine, surely Antelope deserves equal billing. Still, Doucette’s auspicious first novel puts a welcome focus on the players instead of transgressive twists.
A missing person tale with a strong setting and cast of characters.