The disappearance of a young writer over a decade ago is only the tip of the iceberg in this cobwebby 22nd thriller from Cook (Master of the Delta, 2008, etc.).
In the days when he was a travel writer, George Gates roamed the world. But he’s rarely ventured outside his hometown of Winthrop since the day his son Teddy, eight, vanished from the rainy bus stop from which his widowed father had promised to pick him up. Now something has sent Gates on a new kind of voyage. A profile he’s writing for his local newspaper on Arlo McBride, who retired from Rhode Island’s Department of Missing Persons years after Teddy was found dead, kindles his interest in the case of Katherine Carr, a promising poet who went missing five years after an earlier attack left her for dead and turned her into a recluse. In the most affecting sequences, Gates joins Alice Barrows, who’s dying of old age at 12, to read over a cryptic tale Katherine left behind and mine it for clues to her own life. Other characters from the present and past, and from the world of Katherine’s imagination, float by, the most mysterious of them Mr. Mayawati, the exiled survivor of a village massacre to whom Gates tells his story. But none of them throws much light on the fate of Katherine, or threatens to dislodge her and Gates from their troubled central roles.
The climax manages to be sobering and satisfying without tying up all the loose ends of Cook’s most obscure puzzler.