Several decades of small-town misdeeds come to light in Unger’s latest thriller (Die for You, 2009, etc.).
The Hollows is the kind of place where “your doctor was also your neighbor…the cop at your door had been the burnout always in trouble when you were in high school.” So when self-dramatizing Charlene Murray vanishes after a fight with her mother Melody, everyone uneasily remembers the disappearance two decades earlier of perfect student Sarah, who turned up dead in the woods. Most unnerved of all is local cop Jones Cooper; it’s clear from the novel’s opening that he was somehow involved in Sarah’s death. That may be why he’s willing to believe that his son Ricky, Charlene’s boyfriend, was the one who picked her up in a green car the night she left home. Jones’ lack of trust infuriates and bewilders wife Maggie, a psychiatrist who knows there are plenty of kids in The Hollows more troubled than mildly rebellious Ricky. First and foremost among them is Maggie’s patient Marshall Crosby, sinking into severe depression now that he’s returned to living with his abusive father. Travis Crosby has been bounced from the police force after his DUI conviction, but he’s still armed and dangerous, not least for his hold over Marshall, who is both deeply creepy and heartbreakingly vulnerable in Unger’s multidimensional portrait. All the other anxious, guilt-ridden characters are painted in equally perceptive shades of gray. For a while it seems the author has planted too many dark secrets in her plot—even Maggie’s elderly mother has something to hide—but gradually she pulls the narrative threads together in a rich tapestry of psychological wounds passed down through generations. The denouement is grim, but the final resolution of both missing girls’ cases offers hope for the future. In the novel’s most moving scene, Ricky offers his tormented father the understanding and acceptance Jones is shamed to realize he has never given his son.
Cleverly plotted and emotionally engaging.