Few things cause as much distress as the abduction of a little girl; second-novelist Martin (Quakertown, 2001) milks that situation for all it’s worth in a multiply narrated story.
Katie Mackey is nine and lives with older brother Gilley and her parents in the small town of Tower Hill, Ind. The Mackeys own a glassworks, the town’s largest business, and Katie is a child of love and privilege, aglow with innocence. On the other side of the tracks is Henry Dees, a lonely bachelor and math teacher, who is Katie’s private tutor this summer of 1972. His neighbor is the equally lonely widow, Clare Mains, who has taken up with the self-styled Raymond R., a new arrival and, like Dees, victim of a grim childhood. Ray is not well liked for his know-it-all ways and synthetic folksiness, but Clare, all heart and no brains, is charmed, and marries him. Then, on a perfect summer evening, Katie disappears. Earlier that day, Dees had kissed her and then felt ashamed. He has an out-of-control crush on Katie, having snuck into her bedroom and taken some of her hair. Ray knows all this and has blackmailed Dees, but it’s Ray, Dees claims, who took Katie for a ride that evening. It will be days before Katie’s body is discovered. While the killer’s identity is fairly clear, Martin sustains a nagging doubt, serving his theme of the shattering of small-town innocence, the guilt behind the Norman Rockwell façade. Katie’s parents feel this guilt as they recall the abortion they agreed on when they were 18. Dees feels it as he acknowledges he had been “dumb to his own mysterious heart.” The searchers for Katie feel burdened by “the weight of all their sins.” Small wonder, then, that in time Katie’s murder will lead to vigilante justice and another missing body.
Likely to gain attention for its perennially haunting theme, but a little too manipulative to have lasting value.