In Edwards’ (Finding Rosie, 2017) novel, a girl investigates the disappearances of two young women, 20 years apart, from the beachside hotel where she lives.
In June 1959, 11-year-old Mary Nell Morgan lives at the Surf and Sand Hotel in Hermosa Beach, California, where her mother works as a bookkeeper. Nell’s older brother Lonnie is employed in the kitchen, and their father works for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. Nell loves Sherlock Holmes stories, the ocean, learning to surf, and swimming in the hotel’s basement pool, which she has to herself in the early mornings. From the hotel’s handyman, Nell learns that in the summer of 1938, a starlet named Irene Young disappeared from the ballroom: “Only thing they ever found was her dancing shoes,” he says. “Oh, and a broken necklace at the bottom of the pool.” Nell decides she must discover what happened to Irene—especially after 15-year-old Jennifer Hazelwood, the hotel owner’s daughter, disappears, also leaving clothes and other traces near the basement pool. A detective who worked the 1938 case investigates both disappearances, eventually finding connections between Nell’s mother and Irene. A surprise discovery finally reveals the shocking truth. Edwards effectively assembles a number of intriguing elements in this mystery novel. Nell is an engaging character who’s thoughtful, a reader, athletic, and resourceful, and these qualities not only help her sleuthing, but also help her grow as a person. The historical settings are intriguing, as well, whether it’s 1938 with its Hollywood glamour and sleaze, or 1959, as California surfing gains popularity. Along the way, the book points out how the novel and film Gidget helped to make surfing more accessible to girls, and how they also inspire Nell. The parallel mysteries are compelling, with fine red herrings to keep readers guessing. However, the pace is slowed somewhat by repetition and inessential detail, and it’s disappointing that Nell makes a crucial discovery entirely by accident, instead of through detective work.
A mystery/coming-of-age tale with well-developed characters and appealing historical settings but hampered by pacing problems.