The Girl Who Wasn't There
“riveting and action packed right up to the astonishing and surprisingly satisfying ending.”
As a result of some legal maneuvering by his attorney, ex-con Sidney O'Keefe is released from a maximum-security prison after serving 10 years of a 25-to-life sentence. He's accused of the brutal Chen family murder, all four of them found dead in their beds. Sid claims he took the rap for the real murderers who were then killed in a shootout with police.
It was a high-profile case, and his release was big media news, too. It's also big news to his former boss, Mickey Rabuffo. He'd been counting on Sidney to keep his mouth shut.
Sid's absence has been hard on his family, wife Penny and 11-year old daughter Chloe. Penny had to sell their house to pay his legal expenses and make do in a studio apartment. Nevertheless, when he's released from prison they find the money to take a family vacation. They leave immediately for Lake Placid.
It's hard to get a handle on this book. It's almost like it was written by two different authors. The clumsy dialogue, and improbable actions and behaviors of some of the characters in the first half of the book, namely Penny and Sid, will have readers shaking their heads. But the second half of the book is riveting and action packed right up to the astonishing and surprisingly satisfying ending.
The book opens with Sid and Penny at the resort beach enjoying the sun and sea air. Chloe is at water's edge playing in the sand with a newfound friend her own age.
But readers will surely do a virtual double take when Sid and Penny go back to their room to have sex leaving their child alone on the beach under the presumed oversight of a couple they have never met.
What follows are 12 pages of sex and somewhat out of context "pillow talk" that may or may not be absorbed, because readers will be thinking about that child on the beach. But do go back and read those pages, because there are obvious clues in all that bizarre dialogue.
It's finally called to a halt by Penny: "'We need to head back outside before the cops come,' Penny says, not without a chuckle. 'Yikes. We're such evil parents, you and me.'"
Readers will most likely agree and, of course, when Sid and Penny emerge from their room, Chloe is missing. Only then do they walk over and introduce themselves to the family they assumed was keeping an eye on her. The strangers offer to help look for Chloe, an offer Sid and Penny decline.
The next 45 or so pages are taken up with a detailed description of Chloe's parents walking around the resort looking for her. The lobby, the front desk, the indoor pool, the locker rooms, the vending machines, back to the room, back to the beach, the bar/restaurant. They go everywhere except to security, and in fact they reject the desk clerk's offer of help from the hotel detective, another unlikely reaction by parents of a missing child.
Eventually, Penny is worried enough that she wants help from law enforcement. Sidney is still reluctant.
"'. . . we have to be smart about this. I just spent ten years in prison for being an accomplice in the murder of an entire family. Now, I'm not out of the joint a full week and my daughter goes missing. How the hell is that going to look to the police?'"
They finally agree to talk to the hotel detective, Giselle Fontaine, but when she asks to go through Chloe's suitcase for a possible clue to her whereabouts, the mother objects citing privacy rights! Would any mother of a missing child not allow this?
The second half of the book picks up in tone and tempo. This is where the action is. Turns out Sidney has been two-timed by nearly everyone he knows and trusts and is forced to go on the run. What follows is edgy, exciting, and chock full of surprises. Lies, betrayal, secrets, beatings, shootings, greed, stalking, foot chases, and plot twists right to the very last page.
But this review would be remiss, and unfair to the most dedicated crime fiction fans not to mention a glaring error that mars the mostly readable wordsmithing by this NYT and USA Today bestselling author.
It's the Amber Alert.
In the book, the hotel detective tells Sid and Penny that an Amber Alert will be issued for their missing child. Then the chief of police tells them the same thing, and later in the story an Amber Alert is issued. But every law enforcement person, and most if not all crime writers know that an Amber Alert would not be issued under the circumstances described in the book.
An Amber Alert is not a Missing Person's Report. An Amber Alert can only be issued if a witness to the abduction can provide certain information. Not only does law enforcement need a description of the victim, they need a description of the kidnapper, and/or a description and license plate number of the car in which a person is abducted.
That is the information needed to broadcast an "alert" to radio, television, digital billboards, internet Service Providers, internet search engines, as well as citizen cell phones. Without something to look for, there can be no "alert."
In the book, there were no witnesses to Chloe's disappearance, or none who stepped forward, so it did not meet the criteria required to issue an Amber Alert, and law enforcement would not have done so.