Crane’s (Baghdad on the Wabash, 2013, etc.) novel uses true-crime fact to fuel tense, emotional fiction.
Marcella Armand and her husband, Gavin, are living a solid, healthy life in suburban Illinois when their youngest child, Hannah, goes missing on her way to school one day. The family, neighborhood, and law enforcement spring into action and seem to leave no stone unturned, but as days turn to weeks and then months, there’s no sign of the child. Refusing to give up hope, Marcella and Gavin hire a private investigator to look into the case, but his few leads are thin and dwindling fast. Some readers may have trouble connecting with the characters in these early sections, dominated as they are by exposition and action, but those who press on will be richly rewarded with portraits of complex, human figures as the novel develops. The world continues spinning, and the couple has to figure out how to live in it, eventually moving from Illinois to New Jersey in search of a new start, against Marcella’s instincts. The couple’s bond feels genuine, and the novel paints an impressive picture of how their struggle with Hannah’s disappearance alternately rekindles their romance and drives a wedge between them. Tensions rise and fall, and infidelity hangs over them like a pall—Marcella had an affair before Hannah’s birth, and she now has suspicions involving Gavin and his secretary. What’s more, Marcella becomes obsessed with a murder that took place in their new neighborhood in 1957: the real-life case of Edgar Smith, who was convicted of killing a 15-year-old. She delves deeper and deeper into the Smith case and into the story of the man himself, looking for the truth and justice that she fears she’ll never get for herself. As her investigation of Smith intensifies and new leads take shape in Hannah’s case, the story takes on a whole new level of intensity, raising questions of whether Hannah will be found, what sort of justice can be had, and what can possibly be left for this family at the end of it all.
A dynamic novel about justice, betrayal, and the attachment that we feel to our darkest stories.