Summary: Years ago, young Kelsey Willard disappeared and the tragedy left her family with a fractured life. But now another teenage girl has gone missing. It’s ripping open old wounds for the Willards and leaving them unprepared for where it will take them next. Agent Mark Foster has stumbled on uncanny parallels in the lives of the two missing girls that could unlock clues to a serial killer’s identity. That means breaking down walls and getting to a truth that is darker than he bargained for. Now, to rescue one missing girl, he must first solve the riddles that disappeared with another: Kelsey Willard herself.
Genre: mystery, thriller
Rating: 3/5 stars
I’ve talked about my struggles with being a mood reader before, and I think maybe this book fell a little flat for me because I just was not in the right mood for it. I read Jane Anonymous a little over a month ago, which is a similar premise, and just recently finished The Gaps, which focuses on girls whose classmate gets kidnapped. Obviously a story of a girl being kidnapped is a common trope in the thriller genre, but having just read two substantially better ones so recently, Pretty Girls Dancing felt dull by comparison.
I was drawn into this story pretty quickly, but one thing I struggled with was the insane amount of characters here. We have the Willard family, whose daughter Kelsey goes missing and is presumed dead. The three remaining members of the family have their own alternating chapters. We have a BCI agent investigating the case, and he has his own chapters. The newest girl to go missing has her own chapters told while she’s in captivity. I felt like only two of these narratives really added anything to the story, and while certain perspectives helped move the story along and tie everything together, most of them felt unnecessary or dragged on.
Then came the abundance of side characters who seemed so obsolete it was almost not worth having them exist. As an example, in one scene we meet the agent’s partner on the case, only to learn in the next chapter that he’s being transferred to a new case and his replacement will be there soon. The replacement is someone the agent has a ~history~ with, and honestly who cares? If this was supposed to be some story arc where the agent has to look deeper into everything, including himself, I mean…no thank you. It’s been done a hundred times and added nothing!
There are so many suspects and red herrings throughout the story, all with their own underwhelming secrets (that do eventually connect with everyone else’s, but to what avail?), and when each character is introduced it’s obvious they exist purely to throw the reader off and aren’t actually the killer. When the killer is revealed, he comes completely out of left field. I’ve talked about this with other books, and it’s one of my biggest gripes with the thriller genre, but while some twists are expected with a good thriller, you can’t just create an entire secret backstory for a character in the last two chapters and suddenly turn them into a dark and twisted character. Twists also need to be believable or they aren’t going to work.
I’ll be honest, I skim-read the second half of this book until the last few chapters for the big reveal. I don’t feel that I lost anything by doing so. There’s a good chance if I had picked this book up at a later time, I would have enjoyed it more, but since I was obligated to read it for my book club, I had an easier time disliking it. Or maybe I’m just too picky about my thrillers.