"One Night Gone" by Tara Laskowski
I remember hearing somewhere that, once a person has been missing for 72 hours, the likelihood of finding him or her alive is miserably low.
Although this is probably stating the obvious, I think that’s fucking terrifying.
Though, despite the fact that I watch a lot of crime TV and read a literal shit-ton of thrillers — so you’d think I would be numb to it all — I find a lot of crime facts terrifying — probably due in part to the fact that I am woefully incompetent in the area of self-defense.
I think it’s terrifying that nearly half of all women murdered are killed by romantic partners.
I think it’s terrifying that 2 million burglaries occur daily.
And I think it’s terrifying that one child goes missing every 40 seconds.
Really, given the number of statistics that scare the shit out of me, I should probably stop watching crime TV and reading thriller novels — or at least stop reading statistics — because none of it is doing anything to prepare me for what is increasingly looking like my imminent demise in a horrible, violent fashion.
But despite the fact that it’s probably not good for me, I’m going to keep exposing myself to crime and thrillers, like Tara Laskowski’s One Night Gone, the novel that inspired this rumination of all of the horrible ways my loved ones and I could die.
In Laskowski’s novel, our protagonist almost unwittingly becomes embroiled in the search for someone who disappeared nearly 25 years prior.
Which, TBH, seems like a frustrating exercise in futility as, if the case goes cold after 72 hours, you can imagine how frigid it would be after 25 years.
When Allison Simpson temporarily relocates to Opal Beach she doesn’t do so out of some Cagney-and-Lacey inspired desire to seek justice. In fact, she knows basically nothing about Opal Beach, and even less about the girl who went missing there decades prior.
Fresh off of a messy divorce, with her pain amplified by her own exceedingly public, immediately viral airing of dirty laundry, Allison is looking to escape.
So when the opportunity to take up residence in a beach house while its owners are in Europe for the winter presents itself, she jumps at it.
Thanks to a broken Keurig and a coffee addition — I feel you, girl. #TheStruggleIsReal ☕ — Allison quickly meets Tammy, a local who is still haunted by memories of her friend, Maureen, who disappeared back in the 1980s.
Though Tammy was upset when Maureen disappeared, the rest of the town barely noticed.
Opal Beach has always been a town of haves and have-nots, and Maureen inarguably fell into the latter category. In fact, much like Allison, Maureen wasn’t a full-fledged resident of Opal Beach. She was instead a girl with a rough past who happened upon the ocean-side town while working at a traveling carnival.
After meeting at a party, Maureen and Tammy became fast friends — which was unexpected, as they also seemed to be chasing after the same very desirable, very wealthy boy.
But matters became more complicated as the summer of 1985 progressed.
So complicated in fact that, by fall, their friendship was in shreds and Maureen was missing.
It should be easy for Allison to spend her time in Opal Beach peacefully, not getting involved in the disappearance of a girl that no one, save Tammy, is hunting for.
But, paradoxically, that doesn’t prove to be the case.
Someone, it would seem, wants Allison to dig up long-ago-buried secrets.
Someone wants the truth of what happened years ago to come out.
And someone is willing to stop at nothing to accomplish his or her goals.
A clear strength of this novel was its rich and distinctive setting.
In stark contrast to the dark and confined settings in which many writers place their thrillers — usually in an attempt to make their readers feel trapped — Laskowski elected to set her story in an open, airy beach town in which the only confining element is the rigid class structure.
With the protagonist snuggled into this beach house, surrounded by dunes and abutting the vast ocean, Laskowski — either intentionally or unintentionally — highlighted how small we are all.
Similarly compelling, both our current-time protagonist, Allison, and the star of our flashbacks, Maureen, were… damaged.
They were each struggling not just to find their respective places in the world, but also to find themselves.
This uncertainty and lack of confidence made them both seem very authentic and effectively induced readers to root for them — which… is good… because if you’re not rooting for the girl who’s missing you’re going to give zero fucks whether or not she’s found.
Though both of the dual protagonists were well developed in their own right, the same attention wasn’t necessarily paid to our primary antagonist.
My one frustration, as I finished this novel, was that I didn’t know more about the person who ended up being to blame for Maureen’s disappearance.
After sifting through a number of admittedly believable red herrings, we find that the individual responsible for Maureen’s disappearance — and, as you would already have guessed, her death — is a character who barely appeared in the novel.
From a writer’s standpoint, I understood why Laskowski elected to do this.
By placing the blame on a very minor character, she almost completely eliminated the possibility of a reader piecing it all together before the denouement.
But, as a reader, it was frustrating.
Because I knew so little about this character, I couldn’t really decide if the conclusion was all that plausible.
Would this killer really have taken Maureen's life?
Would she have been cunning enough to cover it all up for all these years?
And — as we come to find out as the book draws to a close — would she have cared enough about bringing her husband down that she would have orchestrated every element — down to the selection of Allison as the house sitter — to make sure it happened?
The problem is, I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, because I didn’t know this character well enough to decide.
All things considered, however, this was a solid thriller populated with rich characters and placed in an even richer setting.
Particularly now, as the heat of summer gives way to the first goosebump-inducingly-chilly breezes of fall, this novel is a wonderful one to snuggle up with.
It earns 4 out of 5 cocktails.
Reading this novel has me wanting to head to some random New England beach — specifically, the experience a snow storm while ocean-side as described in this book. What is your favorite thing to do during winter storms? Talk to me about it in the comments, below.
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