the only sarah lotz i’d read before this was under her s.l. grey pseudonym, and since that’s a two authors/one name situation, i don’t really have a sense of how this one stacks up against her other solo works, but i thought it was great, and it makes me want to dive into all her other books i have lying around here, most of which i bought when they first came out in hardcover because i struggle with both impulse control and follow-through, apparently.
this book is playing to the whole true-crime-resurgence thing that’s going on these days, and it features a group of people involved in a website called missing-linc, which is dedicated to cross-referencing missing persons reports with unidentified bodies in cold cases in the hopes of identifying victims and giving their families some peace. the group used to have a more investigative angle, with a focus on actually solving the crimes, but they limited their goals to identification-only after their amateur detecting went horribly wrong, in the way that all online communities do—when the savagery of individuals feeling safe in their anonymity is awakened, they go a-trolling, and people get hurt.
however, when the group hears that an irish man named shaun ryan is searching for his long-lost uncle, whose description seems to match a case that had had particular resonance for them—the skull-bludgeoned corpse of a young man found wearing a pink prom dress—they decide to make an exception because WHAT COULD GO WRONG, SURELY?
shaun is a reclusive man living in wicklow, unmoored by the death of his mother and residing in a room above the bookshop where he is employed, with only his mother’s elderly, unaffectionate dog for companionship. more or less estranged from their extended family, his mother had always told him stories about her beloved brother teddy, who died in a car accident in galway twenty years earlier, after being cut off from the conservative family because of his homosexuality. shaun is also gay, and has always felt a particular kinship to this larger-than-life figure, and when a former friend of teddy’s comes back to town after a long absence, he tells shaun the truth: the car accident was a lie, and last he heard, teddy was in new york, showing him a letter to prove it. reeling from this information, shaun confronts his shady uncle donny who confirms johnny’s story, but discourages, and implicitly threatens, shaun from trying to track him down.
undeterred, shaun gets in touch with missing-linc’s moderator chris, who is herself somewhat reclusive. the two begin to form a friendship, and loosening her resolve against getting involved in another debacle, chris agrees to help him determine if the victim in the ‘boy in the dress’ case was his uncle.
this was a lot of fun. i know that sounds horrible, considering it’s about hate crimes and murders and the shattered lives of people whose loved ones have disappeared without a trace, but it’s a fast-paced roller coaster of a read, with multiple POV characters, frequently structured as email back-and-forths, texts, and chatroom discussions, with escalating tension and an overall light touch, despite the often very dark subject matter.
there isn’t a huge, shocking reveal—it’s pretty clear from the start that one of the group’s members are not who they claim to be; a fact which is alluded-to in the synopsis, so don’t come at me with spoiler-pitchforks, but the cat-and-mousing is just as entertaining as a big unmasking would be, and the way that backstory emerges kept me wholly invested in the unfolding drama.
there are some great characters, including a baby-sociopath, and while shaun was far too one-note gloomy a character for my particular “root for ‘em” requirements, and i thought his chapters were tonally incongruous with the rest of the book, i really liked the interactions and dynamics between the group members, and there were some truly funny scenes peppered throughout.
one thing, though: i read an arc of this, and at the end, there are several frustratingly blank pages where there will be indices and endmatter in the finished book, which is such a tease! i must go get my hands on a finished copy so i can see what i was missing! impulse control, get thee behind me!
ugh, i meant to review this before pub day but things got away from me, so APOLOGIES, MULLHOLLAND, usually i am better about reviewing books so generously sent my way, despite what i said earlier about follow-through.