I read and loved Chevy Steven’s debut novel, Still Missing, last year. When I heard she had a new novel coming out I was very excited – even more so when I found out that although my library had it on order, no one had requested it. So I was top of the list – and I pushed some other books to lower down the TBR pile so I could read this one as soon as I had it in my possession.
Sara Gallagher has always known she was adopted. Her adoptive parents have never kept it a secret from her and when they were able to conceive their own children after adopting her, she knew that she was always treated differently, at least by her father. Her younger sisters Lauren and Melanie had it much easier – Sara was the one told off for any mess in the house, for the younger girls not doing as required when she was in charge, for their mother not feeling well. Her father was a hard man and Sara’s relationship with him has always been rocky. She’s always yearned for them to be closer and perhaps that’s why she seeks out her birth parents when she’s about to get married.
She finds out her mother’s name and makes a phone call but her birth mother tells her not to call anymore. So Sara hires a private detective who tells her that her birth mother has changed her name at some stage in her life – presumably to get away from the notoriety of being the only survivor of a serial killer known simply as the Campsite Killer. He preyed on people in various campsites, killing the men in the party if there were any then hunting down the females and on many occasions, strangling them and raping them. Sara’s real birth mother was the only woman who ever escaped with her life…and Sara suddenly comes to a sickening realisation when she notices that her birth took place nine months after that escape.
It is leaked to the press and Sara soon finds herself on the receiving end of phone calls of a man claiming to be her father. He tells her to call him John and Sara agrees to speak to him to help the task force set up to catch the Campsite Killer. These phone calls come at any time of day and he expects Sara to be available when he calls – if she isn’t, ‘things’ happen with his anger problem. John it seems, is smart enough to stay on the phone only long enough for the police to get a very vague idea of the area he’s in and he’s always long gone by the time patrols get there. He keeps moving, around the country. But then he suggests that he and Sara meet…
Like Still Missing, this novel is largely written as communication between Sara and her psychologist. It’s like Sara is talking directly, giving an account of what happened each time there was an incident, or development in her life. Already seeing a psychologist before tracking down her birth parents because of her own ‘anger management issues’ Sara is horrified and sickened when she finds out her true parentage. She begins to question genetics and blood – are her issues inherited? Can she help the anger and frustration she feels towards people sometimes?
The biggest problem I have with this book is the amount of time Sara spends talking to John. I am not adopted so I can’t understand having that lack of connection with a parent, or desperately seeking it. But if I’d found out that my father was a notorious serial killer, I am not sure I would be able to physically speak to him. The fact that she does, and the way that the two investigators bully, manipulate and guilt her into continuing, even when it’s clearly obvious that the ongoing contact is having a severe impact on Sara’s psychological well being, is actually revolting. I would like to think that no civilian would ever be pressured into a dangerous investigation the way Sara was and that they would be able to rely on their own skills to track such a criminal down, but given John has been doing this for over thirty years, it does seem unlikely. It didn’t mean that I didn’t find their behaviour totally abhorrent and infuriating though. There were several instances where they made Sara feel directly responsible for the death of someone that were really frustrating to get through as a reader. I just wanted to start shouting at them.
Despite that – this book was impossible to put down. Just like her first novel, it was a gripping psychological thriller that was amazingly well paced and utterly enthralling even while it was revolting me. There’s something about the way Chevy Stevens writes damaged people that is so incredibly addictive and sympathetic, even though you know at times they don’t warrant your sympathy. They make stupid decisions, they do things that are just downright ridiculous and make you judge them but somehow underneath all that, you still feel for them and still follow the journey with your heart in your mouth waiting for everything to all come to a head and see who is left standing.
As with Still Missing, I didn’t enjoy this one every step of the way. There’s a lot in here to make a reader uncomfortable or to distance them from what is happening. But never for a second could I have put this down – I had to know more as the story unfolded and I had to know how everything was going to turn out in the end. And the ending was well worth the wait. There were some twists and some surprises that I really did not see coming.
Book #113 of 2011