Nicolette Farrell has worked hard to put the past behind her. She’s got a good job, great apartment and an adoring fiance in Philadelphia. However, when she reluctantly returns to her hometown of Cooley Ridge to pack up and sell her father’s house, her perfect life quickly begins to unravel. Her old boyfriend, Tyler, soon comes to call, stirring up bittersweet memories. But things take a sinister turn when his girlfriend, Annaliese, is reported missing. And here’s the clincher: Annalise isn’t just Tyler’s girlfriend. She was also Nicolette and her friends’ alibi when, a decade earlier, Nicolette’s best friend, Corinne, disappeared.
Now, the two eerily similar disappearances have the townsfolk of Coolie Ridge turning their suspicions on Nicolette, Tyler and their old group of high school friends, forcing Nicolette to stop running and confront the truth about what happened to Corinne.
All the Missing Girls (Simon & Schuster, Jun. 2016) is a compelling and sinister thriller with an unconventional twist: the story is told in reverse.
It was the reverse chronology that piqued my interest; I was curious to see how that played on the page. Full disclosure: I was sceptical. It seemed a little gimmicky, and I wasn’t sure how Miranda would manage to keep the tension taut. But she does. The story starts on day one of Nicolette’s return home, then jumps forward to day fifteen of her visit and rewinds with a chapter for each day from there. Each day brings fresh mystery: Nicolette has lost her engagement ring. She’s stopped eating. Is convinced someone has been breaking into her father’s house. Miranda creates suspense by withholding the how and why of these revelations, and the resolutions she eventually offers for each poses more questions than they answers, keeping the reader guessing right until the end. Or rather, the beginning, when Miranda returns the reader to day one wth a whole new perspective.
The narrative also runs parallel plots: the story of Annalise’s disappearance and that of Corinne’s a decade earlier, with Miranda gradually weaving the two together. It sounds potentially confusing, but from a plotting point of view, All the Missing Girls is a homerun. Miranda executes smooth transitions between past and present, strengthening the connections between the two disappearances and deftly tightening the threads of her story one by one. That said, I’m not convinced that narrating the present day plot in reverse significantly enhances the story. Nicolette is forced to revisit her past, so arguably the structure reflects her return, and it adds a layer of intrigue and unease, but it’s not necessary or essential; the story would work with a straightforward chronology. Still, it’s fun, and I enjoyed seeing how Miranda works to pull it off almost as much as I did the story itself.
Miranda is known for her YA fiction (this is her first adult title) and her YA background is evident in All the Missing Girls. Even though the principal characters are in their late twenties and early thirties, much of the story centres on what happened during their teenage years. Because Nicolette hasn’t seen many of these characters since high school, she is essentially returning to those old relationships, learning to understand them more complexly and undergoing a belated coming-of-age. I’m a *huge* YA fan and think that the special intensity of teenage friendships (particularly female friendships) and relationships translates particularly well into crime fiction. Miranda also manages to bring across the sense of upheaval and heightened reality that go with the territory, and there’s a sparky energy driving the story. For me, the focus on the characters’ adolescent relationships is one of the novel’s strengths. However, I’d be interested to see how other readers interpret this, as I know a lot of adult readers don’t share my enthusiasm for YA.
I had such a fun time with All the Missing Girls. For me, it has all the elements of a good thriller: lashings of mystery, clever plotting, claustrophobic intensity and simmering tension.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of All the Missing Girls in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up four critical issues and twelve advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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