Brown (Little Sinners, and Other Stories, 2012) expands her repertoire in her first novel, a psychological suspense that grabs readers from the start but loosens its grip a bit before the conclusion.
Back in the '70s, a quiet middle-class neighborhood is rocked by the disappearance of two young girls who vanish five years apart. Sadie Watkins bears a close resemblance to the first, 9-year-old Laura Loomis, and is grudgingly forced to play with the second, Francie Bingham. Francie, with her awkward appearance, unhappy home life and a desire to be liked, makes an easy target for Sadie and her best friend, Betty. They resent Francie’s intrusion into their games and conversations but soon turn her presence into a source of cruel amusement. More than 20 years later, Sadie’s still living in the same neighborhood and has settled into her own life with a loving husband and two young children. Her past is long buried—or so she thinks—until musician Ray Filley returns to town. As Ray pursues her with single-minded persistence, Sadie’s former actions and feelings haunt her, and she finds herself turning into someone she remembers all too well. Brown effectively ensnares the reader in a tangle of gloom, intrigue and drama where family homes and a peaceful, hidden neighborhood attraction might be mere facades for dark secrets and tortured lives that lie hidden somewhere within. Switching between past and present, Sadie’s life slowly unravels as she’s finally forced to confront past and present actions and determine who she really is and unresolved issues ultimately achieve some semblance of closure. Although the author combines the elements of good suspense writing to achieve an entertaining and nerve-jangling suspense novel, there are a few weaknesses that might bother the reader. The introduction of the pregnant waitress and her husband does little to enhance the suspense and, in fact, detracts from the story. And the ending is a bit too contrived and just doesn’t fulfill the promise of Brown’s earlier narrative.
Even with flaws, Brown’s complex and haunting piece is better than average.