This debut novel is tightly written, so much so that I’ll keep my eye out for more books by the author.
Two teenagers go missing in the small town of Sandy Lake, one of them is Sheriff Ben Packard’s cousin’s daughter. Packard is new to town, having moved from the big city to start anew after the death of his boyfriend, and has history in Sandy Lake. Long ago, his brother Nick went missing while his family was there during summer vacation.
Emmett Burr caught the teens breaking into his house and took action. His own life is dreadful; a failed marriage, chronic pain, and bad health. He had dreams of having a girl who would do his bidding like Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie and took steps to make that happen.
The story alternates points of view, giving the reader the opportunity to be fully immersed in both characters. This helped keep the tension nice and tight, which never wavered. There were no sagging spots in the plot, no extraneous details, no red herrings.
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of each character as they were introduced. Each one was vivid and interesting. If a fair amount of time had passed, the author made sure to remind the reader of who the character was and/or the relationship of that character to the current ones on the page.
The disappearance of Nick was never answered, which bothered me a bit. There’s a hint as to who was involved and a nugget of mystery surrounding the evidence, likely to be foreshadowing for the next book in the series.
Other than that tiny nitpick, I enjoyed this novel immensely. Highly recommend to people who like small town mysteries with interesting characters.
It’s been a while since I finished a book. I’ve been busy planning for my first ever vacation and that’s taken up most of my brain power. I did finish this one, though.
When maps are made, the cartographer will often add a town that doesn’t exist as a way of copyrighting the map. These tows, in real life, are called Paper Towns and sometimes a town will sprout up in that location. In this novel, extra rooms or towns are called ‘phantom settlements’ and they can only be accessed by viewing the map as you go to the location.
I thought that was a really cool concept. Rooms that don’t exist unless you have the map? Fantastic! But the book’s focus was heavily romantic rather than magical realism. So heavily romantic that I think the book should be shelved under romance, not mystery.
The constant hand-wringing of the main character, Nell, got really annoying really fast. Sure, she had a relationship with another character, Felix, and when they were both fired from New York Public Library their relationship ended….but could there be more? Could they be together again? Could they ever love again? If you like romance, you’d appreciate this far more than I did. I just wanted to get on with the story about magic rooms.
In addition to my irk about romance, the author overused several phrases to the point where I was rolling my eyes by the end. You don’t need to tell me the ‘lion statues flanked the stone steps’ more than once. I can remember where the lion statues were once I’ve been told. I don’t need to hear about how Nell was so tiny that she drowned in her oversize cardigan more than once. Please use a different method of describing her, thank you. But for romance, this fits I guess.
The plot was a bit weak. Nell finds a bunch of maps in a dusty storage area of NYPL and brings them to her father, who heads the department. He pitches a fit over them. She fights him on them. Felix backs her up. Her dad has them both fired and shunned in the industry.
That seemed over the top. I mean, wouldn’t the father find a better way of dealing with these maps – one of which holds the secret to a missing town – than making a big stink about it? His insistence that it’s worthless only makes Nell investigate the map.
We find out later that Nell’s mom was in that magic town when all the maps to it burned. She died as a result. And since you can’t go to the town without the map, it was lost forever. The group of friends mapping the place out all go their separate ways and live their lives.
But then Nell investigates and discovers not all the maps were lost. One of them was in that bunch she found at NYPL.
I felt like the book took a long time to get where it was going. A lot of stuff could have been edited out as it was just repetitious. The climax was interesting but not particularly shocking.
Again, if you like romance, this might be an interesting mystery/romance for you. For me, I just wanted more action and focus on magic rooms and towns.
Hester Marley is the main character, who was a survivor of a ship explosion. She received medical care and prosthetics, as well as indentured servitude to pay for those prosthetics. Her job and life shifted from being an AI programmer to an investigator for a company that doesn’t care about solving crimes, just sweeping stuff under the rug.
Another survivor of the explosion, and a friend of hers, David Pressenko, is found dead on a mining asteroid with less than a dozen inhabitants. Shortly before his death, he sent Marley a cryptic message. She goes to investigate his death and gets caught up in a terrorist plot.
I love mysteries even though I sometimes have trouble following all the clues. I like that the clues are subtle and I like when all the loose ends are tied up, but I do find it frustrating when there are too many diversions. This book had too many diversions. It was hard for me to keep track of what was an important clue and what was just information.
I felt like the first quarter of the book was backstory. Every time something new happened, the reader was treated to Marley remembering something about her past. This information was relevant, absolutely, but I found it annoyingly long in places and was happy when the plot finally started moving forward. The pacing was slow at first and ramped up significantly toward the end.
Everything does get tied up neatly, with a surprise or two thrown in for good measure. The book is written as though a sequel could take place but also could stand alone.
This book was listed as LGBTQ+ because the main character was a lesbian, her partner in the investigation is a gay man, and her former/part-time lover is non-binary. There’s no romance in the book – thankfully, as it wouldn’t fit well – but it’s mentioned here and there.
The non-binary character was written so smoothly that it took me a couple of pages to realize the pronouns were they/them. I loved this, I absolutely adored how seamless it was to read a non-binary character this way, as just another character and not someone who needs to be pointed out to the reader or put in a spotlight.
Overall, the book was good enough to hold my attention and make me want to keep reading, even with the frustrating way the backstory was integrated.