On the night of the moon landing in 1969, ten-year-old Charlie Olmstead disappeared. The official report said that he’d been in an accident – slipped into the creek on his bike and washed over the falls – but his mother never believed it. Now, forty years later, her dying wish is for her second son, Eric, to find his brother. Eric was only an infant when Charlie disappeared, but lived his entire life in the shadow of his missing brother. He calls in Nick Donnelly, now no longer a cop but a private investigator of cold cases, and Nick brings in the town’s police chief, Kat, whose father investigated the initial disappearance.
This is a follow up to Death Notice – the next Perry Hollow story involving the recurring characters of Kat, her son James, Nick, and many other folks in the small Pennsylvania town. The cold case brings them through unexpected twists to five other unsolved cases of missing boys between 1969 and 1972. To note: this isn’t a true sequel but more of a separate, standalone story that involves the same characters. It could be easily read without first reading Death Notice.
The good: I was worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the first, mainly because cold cases aren’t my favorite topic, and they can be plodding and unfocused. It also seemed from the description like the story mostly involved a forty-year-old history, rather than the present-day characters. Neither of these turned out to be true. This was an engaging story, with lots of fun new routes discovered while in pursuit. I learned a lot about subjects I’d never heard of before, like the Centralia mine fire. There were interesting new characters, too, ones that I hope will reappear in the final volume of the series.
The bad: There were a lot of loose ends and weird assumptions. I can’t talk about the rest of this without spoilers, so skip the next paragraph to avoid those.
Spoilers: Eric talks about leaving a note for his mother (Maggie) when he left home, but his mother told Kat that no note was left. It was a big enough discrepancy that I expected it to come back into the story as more of Maggie’s illness was revealed. Instead, it just seemed to be a plot hole or unanswered question. Maggie’s illness was also a bit weird – like the assumption that if she had postpartum depression with Eric, it made no sense that she didn’t have it with Charlie – as if all women must experience each birth the same way? That’s just weird. (And wrong.) There was also the oddity of one character being able to resist the strength of the current right before the falls – more than once, and once when elderly – but others having no control when stuck in it. There’s also no answer to whether those around the killer suspected him, or why the murders stopped after 1972, or what the perpetrator’s psychology was like in the years since – all of which seemed rather important to the story. The whole cold case and current psychology hinged on a lot of coincidences that just felt a bit farfetched. End spoilers.
Anyway, while that’s a long paragraph of “bad,” I enjoyed most of the book. The bad bits were relatively small in comparison to the rest of the story, and I sped through this novel a lot faster than I expected. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment, and I’m sad that there are only three books in the series.