Two friends work at solving a mystery that spiderwebs back in time, not unlike the young girls in Cannon’s debut, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (2016), but this book is set much later in life at an assisted living facility.
As long as she can remember, Florence’s best friend has been Elsie. They both think of Florence’s memory as spotty, though, and Elsie often challenges her to practice calling up facts from their shared past. Strangely—and it is one of many peculiarities permeating the book—the chapters that Florence narrates exude authority, a good eye for detail, and a crotchety independence that unfortunately puts her on probation with the assistant director at her housing complex. This makes it very bad timing for Ronnie Butler to appear, masquerading as a new resident, because Ronnie Butler was supposed to have drowned in 1953 and, before that, was a violent man who infested and harmed Elsie’s family. Florence is terrified; she believes he has come back for her but can’t explain why. Maddeningly, she communicates less efficiently with authorities than with the reader, and they aren’t inclined to believe her anyway. But what begins as a tale evocative of The Yellow Wallpaper turns into an amateur detective story when Florence confides in the kind and clever General Jack, another resident, and they go hunting down clues to Ronnie's motives and the identity he's stolen. The tone then shifts once more (at the seaside, appropriately) to something bittersweet and pensive, concerned with the significance of any one life as well as the texture of devotion. The novel breathes with suspense, providing along the way piercing, poetic descriptions, countless tiny mysteries, and breathtaking little reveals. Some outcomes seem obvious, but enough is left unsaid to keep readers unsure of anything until the last chapter. Perhaps not quite then, either.
A rich portrait of old age and friendship stretched over a fascinating frame.