A few weeks ago I expounded on my theories about mysteries whereby some are thrillingly good and literally keep you guessing while some rely on writerly tricks and coyness to keep the reader in the dark. All the Missing Girls is just that kind of mystery. It’s a mystery mostly told in reverse. Why? Because the narrator knows whodunnit on the first day and, well, there would be no book if she told her story straight.
This one starts out in a pretty straightforward manner, Nicolette Farrell returns from Philadelphia to the small North Carolina town she escaped after high school graduation ten years ago. She’s there to help her older brother sell their father’s house. Dad is in a nursing home suffering from dementia and is not too keen, in his more lucid moments, about selling the house.
Nic’s not too keen to be back in town. She’s got an ex-boyfriend lurking around, the memories of her high school BFF/frenemy who went missing the summer Nic left, and, oddly, another pretty blonde girl goes missing as soon as Nik arrives.
From there we jump ahead fifteen days and Nik starts unspooling the story of what happened to ten years ago when she left and Corinne Prescott went missing and how that mirrors the current disappearance of Annaleise, who was dating Nic’s high school boyfriend, Tyler, when she went missing.
This one is frustrating and unsatisfying, because the reader spends a lot of time doing some sort of mental yoga to figure out why the story is being told backward. Choosing to tell the story like this is the opposite of building suspense. Each time we jump back a day you’re reminded that “oh yeah, this happened the day before and so I already know everyone is okay.”
The writerly device is annoying and when you toss that onto a bunch of half-formed characters who have not grown at all in ten years and revolve them all around a plot that is basically “teen girls are mean and stupid” you’re left with a heaping helping of are you kidding me.
If you’re in the mood for a mystery, skip this one and pick up Sheri Lapena’s The Couple Next Door.