Mystery novelist Simpson (A Debt of Death, 2008, etc.) weaves a twist-filled tale of deception about a young wife who disappears at a mall in upstate New York.
Like Gillian Flynn’s best-selling Gone Girl (2012), this novel begins with the disappearance of a young wife. Rebecca vanishes while she and her husband, Liam, are shopping at the Bennett Mall in Cheektowaga, N.Y., near Buffalo, just months after they married. At first, Rebecca’s disappearance looks like an abduction, but the issue becomes murkier as the novel fills in the background on the newlyweds’ relationship. The couple met at a medical conference in Florida; in passages about those first encounters, readers feel that Rebecca is playing Liam from the start. She agrees with him perhaps too readily and, as she entices him sexually, avoids talking about her past. Why does she do it? What’s her game? These questions lie at the heart of the novel but never become as urgent as they should. Both members of the couple are so self-absorbed that readers don’t feel the love between them in a way that would make Liam’s reactions to Rebecca’s disappearance poignant. Liam has tense confrontations with a security guard and with the police after his wife vanishes, which help keep the plot moving swiftly but don’t answer basic questions about his character: Does he really miss Rebecca? Or is he, not Rebecca, playing a role? Even if the characters remain flat, however, the story has a full-throttle pace that maintains interest. Simpson also structures the novel as a series of date-stamped sections that help readers keep track of events. The writing is clean but sometimes has redundancies: “Peters would have been able to avoid the kick and disarm Sven in one motion had the old man’s move not come as such a surprise that it caught Peters completely off guard.” The novel contains strong language but nothing unfamiliar to readers who watch R-rated thrillers.
The unfolding mystery—not the characters—will keep readers interested in this dark tale.