Book review: Missing Person

Missing Person by Sarah Lotz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Missing Person is, perhaps not surprisingly, a story about loss. But it’s also a story about friendship, moving forward, a mystery (naturally) and a murder (or two).

Shaun Ryan, a young man working at a small bookstore in the Irish town of Wicklow, has been told that his uncle, Teddy Ryan, died in a car accident. Always skeptical, he learns the truth as the story begins–his openly gay uncle was effectively driven out of Ireland by his conservative family in 1996, and fled to New York. He has not been seen since. He begins to search for his uncle, thinking he may still be alive.

Into this comes, an amateur site dedicated to UIDs (Unidentified bodies) and a report of a murder victim found in the U.S. who might be Shaun’s uncle. The victim is found wearing a prom dress.

From there the story hops back and forth between the members of, their lives, and their investigation into the cold case of Teddy Ryan’s murder.

Lotz often writes in epistolary and does so here to good effect, showing the personalities of the various amateur investigators through their forum posts, instant messaging and Skype chats. Shaun Ryan slowly gets pulled into the investigation and the group moves toward cracking the case, unaware that the killer of Teddy Ryan is still around–and very close.

Lotz juggles the cast well, slowly cranking the tension as it is revealed to the reader that one of the members of is, in fact, a killer, and one whom the group is at risk of exposing. While the story races to a showdown of sorts, the journey to that point is the meat of the tale, illustrating how the work of digging up the past can have consequences in the present.


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Book review: The Murders of Molly Southbourne

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a weird story that effortlessly embraces its weirdness.

Molly Southbourne is an only child raised and homeschooled on the family farm under the guise of having hemophilia. What Molly really has is much stranger and deadlier than that. Every time she bleeds she produces a clone of herself that eventually turns murderous and tries to kill her.

The novella is largely framed around the mystery of why this happens while chronicling Molly’s training by her parents on how to avoid making clones and combat them if needed.

Molly becomes very efficient in combating them.

Fed by insatiable curiosity, but lacking the social skills acquired from being out in the world, Molly turns into a clinically efficient young woman, one who knows exactly what she wants, speaks to others with a daring frankness, and pursues her goals with relentless precision. She is admirable, if not entirely likable.

The story does address this, but it feels a bit too late to resonate much. It is there, though. It’s perhaps a case where a longer work would have expanded more on the theme of Molly not really connecting with anyone due to her bizarre upbringing and the freakish requirements for survival she endures.

And while the story is violent and gruesome, and devoid of sentimentality, there is a certain droll quality to the proceedings as Molly literally stacks up the bodies of her bloodthirsty clones.

The ending is neat, but I am unsure how I feel about it. The ride getting there is, well, fun isn’t quite the word I’d use, but it definitely entertained, with prose that moves as crisply and briskly as Molly with her clone-crushing hands.

Recommended, if only because of how all-in author Tade Thompson commits to the premise.

(Note: I did not realize this is apparently the first book of a series–it stands on its own as a quick read, though.)

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Book review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

Disappearance at Devil's RockDisappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By turns suspenseful, creepy and sad, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is a simple story that centers around how easily decent people can do terrible things.

Framed around the disappearance of a teenage boy at a state park, the story shifts between events leading up to the disappearance of Tommy Sanderson, and the aftermath of the disappearance, with the search, police investigation and the mother, Elizabeth, and younger sister Kate, trying to cope.

Tremblay, who has a short essay about the story at the end of the novel, makes reference to his work as generally ambiguous, but I would describe what he does here not so much as deliberate ambiguity, but more a technique to create a specific mood, even if it ultimately has no payout for the story itself. Tremblay is, in a way, tricking the reader into believing things in order to spook them.

Much like his previous novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock presents seemingly supernatural occurrences, some of which are explained, others of which are not. The problem with this approach is twofold–the unexplained events do add to the atmosphere of the story, but do not materially add to the story beyond that, and as Tremblay has used this technique in two consecutive novels, it risks becoming a predictable shtick. As I progressed through Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, it became clear the supernatural aspects would have no bearing on the overall story or its outcome and at that point those elements almost became irritants that distracted from the real story of how three teenage boys came under the spell of a disturbed young man in his early 20s.

Surprisingly, the breaking of writing rules didn’t bother me at all. Tremblay frequently shifts the POV from one character to another, often in the same scene. There are police interviews that are literally presented as transcripts, though the story overall is not written as an epistolary. Journal notes are presented as huge walls of text.

I was also surprised at how unaffected by Elizabeth and Kate’s emotional suffering. I sympathized over their loss, but didn’t feel much else, and I can’t say exactly why. Tremblay writes well, but there is something in the prose here that created distance and pushed me away instead of pulling me in.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, but don’t be fooled by the pretense to supernatural or non-psychological horror elements. They don’t really inform the story, and act more as decoration around the edges, even if they are presented in a skillful and evocative way.

Also, Tremblay clearly did his homework on Minecraft. :P

Recommended if the premise and central theme interests you, but not a must-read. A Head Full of Ghosts does a lot of what this book does, but with a fresher take on its subject.

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