Edgar Award–winning crime writer Abbott’s sixth novel (Bury Me Deep, 2009, etc.) is a change of pace: a delicate skein of fantasies and obsessions, shared by two adolescent girls and shadowed by an abduction.
Lizzie and Evie are thick as thieves. Next-door neighbors, they are tomboys who think nothing of getting banged up in a hockey game. The 13-year-olds are on the cusp of puberty, and all the revelations it will bring. Lizzie, the narrator, is fascinated by the Ververs. Aside from Evie, there is her older sister Dusty, impossibly beautiful and glamorous, and Mr. Verver, the most fun dad you could imagine. Lizzie’s own dad has split after an ugly divorce. She has the feeling something momentous is coming, and then it does: Evie disappears. Lizzie recalls that Evie had a secret admirer, an older man who would watch her at night, standing in the yard. It doesn’t take long to figure out that it’s Mr. Shaw, a married middle-aged insurance agent, who has driven Evie away. (The location is Anyplace, U.S.A.) The crime element is handled perfunctorily. Abbott’s spin on the situation is what’s important: the possibility that Evie, a willing conspirator, wanted this attention from an older man. After all, thinks Lizzie, doesn’t she have her own huge crush on Mr. Verver? And maybe Mr. Shaw was driven “by the purest, most painful love”? Abbott guides us skillfully through Lizzie’s hothouse fantasies, but at the expense of action. There’s a long wait for a break in the case. It comes awkwardly, casting Shaw’s wife in an especially strange light. But it’s engineered by Lizzie, who resorts to fibs as she dramatizes her role (“I feel so powerful, like a god”). The real drama, though, is next door at the Ververs. Right at the end, Dusty reveals a furious sibling rivalry, under the nose of the oblivious Mr. Verver. What do adults know?
A tangled tale that is more provocative than illuminating.