I am a fan of Heather Gudenkauf and was eagerly awaiting this, her latest novel to read especially as the premise was a gripping one and it looked like it explored family secrets and lies, one of my favourite devices!
Sarah accompanies her husband Jack back to his home-town following his Aunt Julia’s hospitalisation following a fall at her home. Julia and her husband Hal had cared for Jack and his sister Amy following the death of his parents while Jack was still in his teens. The family was close but in twenty years of marriage this was the first time that the couple had returned to Penny Gate in Iowa. Once there Sarah, an investigative reporter soon realises that her husband has lied to her over the years and that’s when he hasn’t just refused to talk to her.
As Julia is ill in hospital and the family are turning on Amy who is clearly in a highly emotional state which is exacerbating a mental fragility, Sarah decides to find the missing pieces from the jigsaw that is the life of Jack Quinlan and what she starts to unearth quickly convinces her that Penny Gate is not a safe place she wants to be.
Unfortunately I’m afraid Missing Pieces didn’t quite live up to my expectations although I did need to read to the end to find out if my suspicions were correct; some were, some weren’t! The main issue I had was that the characters in this book, particularly Jack and Sarah who were a fairly unconvincing long-married couple. This combined with the fact that Sarah went into emotional melt-down on realising she hadn’t been told about one of Jack’s high-school girlfriends didn’t help. Now don’t get me wrong there were plenty of things that Jack should have discussed with her years ago but her response to this piece of news was far more fitting a teenager in a new relationship than one underpinned by twenty years of marriage.
While Sarah is out investigating what else Jack has hidden from her she meets the clerk, Margaret from the Sherriff’s office. This kind upstanding lady proceeds to risk her job, and one would presume the good-will of those around her by sharing information and files with Julia but she goes for it, just as well because without those missing pieces the truth would never have come out.
This wasn’t a bad read it just didn’t have much depth and although the characters were a little thinly-drawn the plot was good although you will note that I have some scientism on the methods used to move it along, and without spoiling the story there were many strands that the author kept sufficiently tangled to give serious misdirection on many aspects of the book. There was certainly enough points that kept my interest and it was perfect for a travelling day when books are opened and shut with alarming frequency as I moved to different modes of transport and their associated waiting areas.
I’d like to thank the publishers Harlequin UK for giving me a copy of Missing Pieces ahead of publication on 10 March 2016.
This is one of those really hard books to review because nearly everything I want to say is potentially a spoiler but I will do my best. Mia is in a bar, she’s been stood up by her boyfriend and then she is approached by a man, Colin Thatcher, she leaves with him but rapidly realises that this could have been the worst decision of her life. Not only is the story told in the first person by four different characters; Colin, Mia’s mother Eve, Detective Hoffman who is searching for her and Mia herself, the narratives also switch backwards and forwards and if that wasn’t enough to follow there is no warning when the narrative changes.
“…anything that will tell me who Mia Dennett was with that Tuesday night she disappeared. She won’t eat. Four times I’ve offered her food, dropped a bowl full of it on the floor in the bedroom. As if I’m her damn chef”
At first I found this style mildly off-putting but it has the effect of dragging you into the story, after all there is no reading to the end of the chapter in this book because there are no chapters; just one swirling narrative backwards and forwards. In the hands of a less accomplished writer this style of writing could easily have turned into a disaster but I loved it. Of all the narrators I found Colin’s by far the most compelling but all shine a light on different aspects of the story.
This isn’t just a thriller it is far more about why the characters act the way they do, and yes some of it is a little clichéd but after all, clichés exist for a reason. Eve appears the most shadowy of all, especially at the beginning, but like them all, we see that there is more to this mousey, offhand woman than is initially presented to us. Beneath the main plot there are prosaic truths some often repeated: ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ others dealing with the nature of complicated relationships. Mia’s with her parents, Colin with his mother and Eve’s with her husband, Judge James Dennett all of which pull the plot in different directions as the reader considers what is known at any given point.
This is one of those books where I got to the end and wanted to reread it again to see how it reads once you know the main point, I didn’t, but I think this one will be re-read because I think what is beneath the surface of this book is as important as the plot. So I loved it and at the same time I can see why others may not be as enamoured as I was, not least because the blurb is a little misleading. I could go off on a rant on why publishers insist on comparing books to other books but I won’t, I’ll just advise that you put aside a decent amount of time and settle down to read this book and see what you think of it based on its own merits. I thought this was a cracking debut and I look forward to more from Mary Kubica in the future. I received my copy of this book from the publishers, Harlequin UK in return for my honest review. This book was published yesterday, 1 August 2014.
Ellen, happily married to Adam, mother to three children and a demanding working life as a Social Worker. We first meet Ellen on one of those hectic mornings that any parent will recognise, and they leave the house to their appointments without time for a coherent conversation. Ellen drives to one of her families straight into a disaster, finding the police are in attendance when she turns up. Ellen is doing her job and deeply concerned about the family so it isn’t until she hears a commotion that her life comes falling down around her ears. Ellen had left baby Avery in her car in the heat and someone is giving her CPR.
Meanwhile Jenny Briand aged just ten is in the middle of more upheaval, her father has lost another job and they are on the move. It is time for Jenny to gather her meagre possessions together, pack her backpack and set on to an unknown town where a promise of work awaits her father. Jenny has lived with her father for six years all she knows is her mother ran away with her boyfriend and Jenny was in foster care until her father claimed her.
This is a heart-rending tale told in the first person by Ellen and alternatively by Jenny in the third person. A story concentrating on abused, neglected and even dead children is never going to be light-hearted, but Heather Gudenkauf manages to balance this with some truly kind characters, in particular Maudene, who meets Jenny in a pancake shop, taking care of her when she falls ill and Joe a kindly policeman who is friends with Adam and Ellen. The well-drawn characters made me care about all the characters, not just the two main protagonists and I was eager to know what would happen to Ellen? Would Adam be able to forgive her? Why was Jenny living with her father and where was her mother? Even the children are well-formed rather than caricatures behaving in an entirely natural way to the disruption that Ellen’s mistake has bought raining down on their lives.
Alongside a great premise, a well-executed storyline and rounded characters this book raises lots of questions. There is the, sometimes none too subtle, reflections of Ellen when she realises that parents she charges with neglect and child endangerment are having to be investigated the way she is. Being subjected to the same conditions that she is and feeling the embarrassment of being judged by others the way that others are now judging her.
As in her previous novels, The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away, Heather Gudenkauf handles the multiple viewpoints perfectly allowing the reader to get a peek behind the scenes of the action, adding to the pace of the plot rather than making it stutter along.
I’d like to thank the publishers Harlequin Mira for letting me have a copy of this book for review purposes ahead of the publication date of 24 June 2014