I’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.
Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.
The prospect of exploring the psychology of Jenna’s guilt and grief are part of what attracted me to this title in the first place and they are definitely well-developed through the novel and I know that the drive for her to act and help in any way possible is central to her character—it just makes it really, really difficult for me to maintain a suspension of disbelief through most of the book. There at least seems to be a familial consistency as her son, Jared, acts with similar borderline-unfathomable disregard throughout the book, though he has the added excuse of being a teenager. Still, I found both of them came off all-too frequently as Charlie Brown with the football when it came to their interactions. I was surprised by how coincidental all of their breakthroughs in the “investigation”—first into Celia’s disappearance and then into Jared’s girlfriend’s disappearance—end up being, especially by the novel’s climax. Despite putting themselves into dangerous situations rather frequently, so much of what ultimately leads to the climaxes of the mysteries in the book happen to them when they’re not actively looking for answers; it’s even more surprising that they’re always so many steps behind when Jenna is so close to the cop in charge of her friend’s case.
Sharing the narrative perspective between the mother and son, while vaguely justified by the connections between what first appear to be different plots, killed the novel’s pacing for me as a reader. Each hard cut from one character’s perspective to the other with deliberate cliff-hangers in the preceding chapter made it difficult for me to maintain any level of excitement or investment in any plot. The plots that did eventually intertwine were on the unnecessarily complicated side while also being somehow vague. I found the ending to be not only anticlimactic in its execution but was disappointed with a general lack of resolution—with all the questions that were raised in the course of the novel, I thought there’d have been more answers, more time spent wrapping things up, but instead the end hits and proves just as unsatisfying as so many of the end-of-chapter cliff-hangers throughout the book.
It ultimately felt unfinished despite having rambled at length earlier in the narrative. While the central mystery and its solution might be engaging of themselves, the presentation itself left much to be desired for me personally.
Since She Went Away by David Bell will be available for purchase on June 21, 2016.