In All the Missing Girls, Nic (Nicolette) Farrell goes home to Cooley Ridge, North Carolina to help fix up and clean out the family home. Her brother Daniel’s wife Laura is a few weeks from giving birth to the first in the next generation of Farrells. Nic and Daniel had to place their father in long term care a year ago, his dementia progressing to the point he could not live independently. It should be a simple thing, going home for a visit, but for Nic, it is fraught with memories of the past and the mysterious disappearance of her best friend Corinne after the fair ten years ago.
Corinne was never found. Perhaps she ran away, but no one really believes that. Instead a cloud of suspicion fell on her friends, the group that include Nic, her high school boyfriend Tyler, her brother Daniel, Corinne’s high school boyfriend Jackson, and Bailey, who was interested in Jackson and jealous of Corinne. Every incident of their high school life was parsed for significance. Bailey all but accused Jackson of murder, but no body was found and no evidence other than rumor to implicate anyone.
One of the more memorable Agatha Christie novels is Ordeal By Innocence. It’s central theme is justice is necessary not so much to make the guilty pay, but to take suspicion off the innocent. A couple of the characters discuss the true crime murder of Charles Bravo, and one of them says, “Someone was guilty – and got away with it. But the others were innocent – and didn’t get away with anything.” You can see how the innocent pay in All the Missing Girls.
As soon as Nic returns, she meets up with her first love Tyler who’s with Annaleise Carter, who witnessed a fight between the group the night Corinne disappeared. Her eyewitness evidence was proof that the cuts and bruises they bore preceded Corinne’s disappearance. She was their alibi. The next night after Nic’s return, Annaleise disappears. She was seen walking into the woods and was gone. Could this second disappearance have anything to do with the first? It seems likely since Annaleise left a message with a local deputy that she wanted to talk to him about Corinne’s disappearance.
When Nic gets back to Cooley Ridge, the narration jumps ahead two weeks and then goes backward chapter by chapter. Day 15, Day 14, Day 13 and on back to the night of Annaleise’s disappearance. Far from giving too much away, the information comes gradually, revealing more and more about the past and the present. It’s a fascinating exploration of narrative. This is narrative in reverse and it is masterful.
Place is important. Miranda effectively describes the setting so you see and feel it. There are passages in it that remind me of Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater in how the wind, the forest, and the weather create a sense of menace that may be real or imagined. What is real? As with Gone Girl, we come to suspect that there is much more to the story than what we think we know. Can we trust Nic? Is she telling us the truth? Does she even know the truth?
Since 2014, nearly every mystery and suspense novel narrated by a woman has been promoted as the next Gone Girl. Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls is the first I have read that merited that claim. It is as fresh, new, and imaginative. I dislike the whole “next Gone Girl” hype, because its success was being fresh and different. Sui generis. A story that repeats its theme will only be derivative. That is why All the Missing Girls is the first to merit that acclamation, because Megan Miranda is not trying to duplicate Gillian Flynn’s style. She is doing what Gillian Flynn did in risking something completely new, completely fresh. She succeeds.