The Three Beths
“Many novels have been described as ‘rollercoaster rides,’ but The Three Beths is a ride and a half. As slowly and inexorably as those cars creeping up that steep incline, the mystery mounts, clues piling atop each other, tension becoming more taut with every movement.”
When Beth Dunning’s abandoned car is found, her husband, Craig, is immediately the prime suspect in her disappearance. The police never look at anyone else, and now, over a year later, Police Chief Dennis Brouchard, Beth’s childhood friend, continues to hound Craig to confess.
“How’d you do it, Craig? How’d you get rid of the body? There was no evidence, no proof, and no other suspects in their circle of friends and acquaintances. Only the low, ceaseless whisper of innuendo and hearsay.”
Craig has been ostracized by their neighbors. Many sell their homes and move away rather than live near a suspected murderer.
After someone begins leaving notes urging Craig to move, then making phone calls threatening his daughter, Mariah, Craig attempts to learn his tormenter’s identity.
“Why now, after the abuse directed at him had quieted for months? He knew his neighbors wanted him gone. They wanted normalcy back. He wasn’t going to leave his home. This house was Fortress Dunning.”
When Mariah Dunning thinks she sees her mother at a shopping mall, things come to a head as Craig learns she has a mobile armory in her car and has been trying on her own to find her mother’s killer.
Mariah’s friend, Chad, who has a true crime podcast, has attracted national attention and is contracted by people wanting to televise his show. Beth Dunning’s disappearance is a major selling point and Chad tells Mariah he’s found what may be a lead: Another woman named Beth disappeared six months earlier.
“Two Beths, vanishing without a trace from the same city in less than a year. A six-month interlude is consistent with certain serial killer cycles, but have you ever heard of a serial killer who chooses victims with a particular name?”
Bethany supposedly left her husband, boarded a plane to Houston, and was never seen again. Theoretically she’s still alive in that city.
Mariah discovers her mother knew Bethany Curtis and tries to determine if that minor connection ties the two disappearances together.
The list of suspects in Bethany’s case is much longer than in her mother’s. Sharon, her mother, is certain her son-in-law killed her daughter but when Mariah comes face-to-face with Jake Curtis, she isn’t so sure. Of them all, Jake appears the most innocent. There’s also Julie, Bethany’s best friend, whose criticisms don’t sound very friend-like.
“The pre-nup Bethany signed said if she and Jake divorced or she deserted him before his company went public, she got nothing. Bethany promised her mom half her shares. Sharon stood to lose out on a few million dollars if Bethany didn’t stick out the marriage.”
Then, there’s Andy—nicknamed Andy the Candy—another childhood friend, a handsome manipulator who was with Beth the day she discovered her father’s apparent suicide.
Ben Blevins overdosed on pills and liquor, leaving a note in which the last line is partially erased: “Sorry about Penny.”
As Mariah delves more into Bethany Curtis’ life, she learns of the events leading up to her disappearance—embezzlement of company funds, vandalism of co-workers’ property, pills, and booze. Shortly before she boarded that plane, Bethany gave Beth something to keep for her, something important.
Then Mariah learns there is a third Beth—Lizbeth Gonzales—someone who knew both Beth and Bethany, someone who has also vanished.
“Another Beth name, Mariah thought. It wouldn’t be. Just when she’d decided there was no connection . . . this oddity.”
Everyone knows everyone else and it’s all woven into a tangled web revolving around the mysterious Penny. All Mariah needs is one small clue to bring it all together and when she finds it, everything will explode in her face.
Many novels have been described as “rollercoaster rides,” but The Three Beths is a ride and a half. As slowly and inexorably as those cars creeping up that steep incline, the mystery mounts, clues piling atop each other, tension becoming more taut with every movement. It seems the pinnacle, that dénouement, will never be reached, and when it is, the downward rush is both a relief as well as a shock.
Some may argue Craig’s pursuit of his tormenter is a red herring; be that as it may, as a way of adding more tension, it works.
As with author Abbott’s novel Blame, everyone carries varying degrees of culpability. This is revealed, slowly but surely, as Mariah peels away the layers of the first crime and how it relates to the second.
In the end, it may be difficult to decide where the blame lies, for this novel has a convolution of motives and actions in which even the most innocent still carries some degree of guilt. The Three Beths could send the reader seeking a fellow mystery fan to discuss that final revelation.