Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who—or what—could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?
Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end—a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.
In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?
Topics: Kidnapping, Baltimore, Maryland, 1970s, Suspenseful, Psychological, Sisters, Missing Persons, Murder, Family, Police, Secrets, Death, and Female Author
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Reading this book was a frustrating experience. As happened when I saw the movie The Sixth SenseI worked out very early on the twist that would come at the end spent the rest of the time wondering why the heck no one else could see it. Most of the time having worked out the end doesn’t impact my enjoyment of a book as there are many other things to occupy my mind: other plot threads, character development and so on. Here though it hindered my reading as I found it quite unbelievable that no one involved in the story ever voiced the possibility that was so blindingly obvious to me. Plots like this rely on keeping the reader guessing and I wasn’t (guessing that is). Every new revelation just cemented what I had already worked out and so I was bored by the chapters focusing on the present day investigation into the woman claiming to be Heather.
On other levels the book worked. I enjoyed the structure of it for example. The criss-crossing between a range of time frames was well done and although it didn’t follow any recognisable pattern it wasn’t confusing. We learned a lot about Heather and Sunny’s childhoods, the lives of their parents following the girls’ disappearance and a little about the woman who may, or may not, be the adult Heather. We also saw glimpses of the people who investigated the case, both at the time of the disappearance and in the present day, although this was by no means a police procedural.
Some of the characters were stunningly developed: in particular Miriam and Dave the parents of the two girls and, for me, the revelation of the various facets of their personalities and lives both before and after the disappearance of their children was the highlight of the book. Lippman portrays two very different ways that people involved in the same horror might deal with it and both are equally credible. When Miriam wonders which event in her life prior to the day of the disappearance she might go back to and change for the entire thing to have been avoided I could feel the genuine agony that thought would cause as it played a never-ending loop in a parent’s mind. The rest of the characters though weren’t nearly as interesting.
Even putting aside the fact I wasn’t terribly engaged by the plot I’m not entirely sure why this book has generated so much awards fuss. For me it was pretty much a middle of the pack read with occasional sparks of real interest