Summary: Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.
Genre: thriller, mystery
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Aaaand here we go again with another enticing thriller that was just slightly not good enough for me. Shout out to Book of the Month for always reeling me in with these books, you the real MVP. This time, I can safely, 100% say it’s not the book, it’s me. My sister also read this book and enjoyed it, whereas I found minor flaws that I could never get over. Without reading the rest of this review, take my advice and just read it. This book has a 4.18 on Goodreads for a reason.
There’s a lot of good to this book, and I think it deserves to be touched on. The first was that while this might have a common trope in the thriller genre (a woman’s husband mysteriously disappears and she needs to do some serious digging to uncover the horrible truth behind his disappearance), it still felt so unique. The big reveal at the end wasn’t necessarily shocking, and there wasn’t really an unseen twist, but it was refreshing because it wasn’t something that’s been beaten to death within the genre. I also felt that the reveals throughout the story were all plausible and made sense. This story wasn’t bogged down by the usual cheap characteristics of a thriller, which made me appreciate and enjoy it.
I also really enjoyed the relationship between Hannah and her teenage stepdaughter, Bailey. It’s mentioned in the summary, so as a reader you know they’ll eventually bond and learn to work together to figure out what happened to Owen, but it was so much more heartwarming than that. Whenever Bailey struggled, Hannah was genuinely there for her, feeling her anger or hurt, but also doing a good job of being the parent and not always showing Bailey that. She let Bailey wallow in her emotions as long as she needed, treated her with respect, privacy, and maturity, which is why their relationship eventually blossomed. Both girls were flawed and maybe a little damaged, but also, most importantly, realistic. Their relationship seemed genuine because both characters seemed genuine.
Another aspect I loved was being vaguely familiar with the location. This book takes places mostly in Austin, Texas, which I’ve visited a couple of times. There are plenty of references to real places and events in Austin, so even though I’ve only been there once or twice and it was a handful of years ago, it was fun to recollect my own memories of the places that were mentioned. I feel like so often authors write stories in major cities, but I never get the feeling that I’m in that city with those characters. The author did a great job of creating that environment and truly making the reader feel that they were in Austin too.
The aspects of this story that I didn’t enjoy were minor and, again, purely my own fault. This story moves at rapid pace. I was able to finish it almost in one sitting, but I felt that it was almost too easy. Stories should have some major or constant rising and falling action, but this storyline kind of…plateaus in terms of conflict.
Hannah and Bailey are being questioned by a US Marshall and the police, but they fly out of state with help from a friend and have no problems. They rely purely on Bailey’s memory and some research to solve Owen’s disappearance, and this is where things started to bother me. Bailey spends the book recollecting memories from when she was a very small child, and despite the age and improbability of accuracy, she never leads them astray.
Hannah gains answers with the help of total strangers, and again, it doesn’t seem that likely to really happen. She remembers the name of a teacher Owen had, traces him down, and he gives her his class roster from the year Owen was his student. Is it likely? Not exactly, but it helps move the story along, so it exists. Later when Hannah is searching for answers in a bar, there’s conveniently some newspaper clippings hung up with photos and names of the people she’s looking for. Hannah is essentially handed the answers and she quickly works through piecing everything together. It’s only when Hannah knows most of the story that the Marshall catches us with her and there’s some drama and conflict, but it’s all within the last few pages. Again, this works because it keeps the story going, feeds us tension, and nicely wraps things up at the end, but it was almost too perfect.