Maile Meloy hooked me with her Apothecary series for young adults; when Meloy’s fellow Guggenheim winner, Ann Patchett, praised Do Not Be Alarmed, the book became my next must read. Unfortunately, I started the book late at night and pulled my first all-nighter in a long time to finish it. I just couldn’t put it down.
If you’ve cruised to the Panama Canal and toured the Central American countries along the way, you will immediately connect with the venue. When three families decide to explore one of the ports of call – what seems like Costa Rica (although Meloy does not actually name it), their lives are traumatized and changed forever. The husbands take advantage of a golf club connection to spend the day on the links and the three wives with children ranging from six to fifteen hire Pedro, a handsome young local, to drive them to ziplining through the trees. When Pedro’s vehicle gets a flat tire, the plot takes the turn from happy vacation to danger.
The parents’ interpersonal issues offer some relief to the constant terrors the children face, from drug-dealing kidnappers to hungry crocodiles. Meloy manages to feed their helplessness and shows a range of ways people deal with threat. But it’s the children who captured my attention, from 6 year old June who worries about her bunny, eight year old diabetic Sebastian who will not survive without his insulin, fourteen year old Isabel blooming into adolescence, and calm centered eleven year old Marcus. My favorite was Penny, an eleven year old who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in her perspicacious role as a teenager in the movie “Election.”
Do Not Become Alarmed is a thrill ride; the ending brings all the strings together as almost an afterthought. And you wonder what kind of lives they will all have, especially the children, years later when their misery catches up with them.
If you liked Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Meloy’s Do Not Become Alarmed will give you the same thrilling yet thoughtful experience. You may find it as impossible to put down as I did.
Read my review of The Apothecary – here
In a chilling examination of family interactions, Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This reveals the dislocation and eventual reinvention of lives trying to cope with the return of a young boy, four years after he had been kidnapped. Although the plot is similar to Jacquelin Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean with the boy living within blocks of his family before he is discovered, Johnston’s victim, Justin Campbell, suffers abuse and terror as the prisoner of a man whose wealthy family lives nearby. Justin’s grandfather discovers he knows the captor’s father.
Through the four years Justin Campbell has been missing, his family has fallen apart. The author alternates chapters with each family member’s inner thoughts. Justin’s father, Eric, struggles through his days teaching and starts an ongoing affair; his mother vascillates between despair and indifference; his younger brother, Griff, tentatively tries to navigate without his big brother. After endless posters and years of searching, Justin is discovered at a nearby flea market and returned to his family. Justin is older, taller, heavier, but being found is only the beginning of his ordeal and his family’s.
Johnston reveals Justin’s trauma but only subtly hints at the sordid details of his captivity. More shocking are his seemingly normal experiences over those years, and his proximity to his family home. When his captor is released on bail, the action escalates, as Eric and Justin’s grandfather plan to force the kidnapper to leave the country – or kill him.
Remember Me Like This examines the aftershock. How does a family recover? How does the victim heal? Is revenge an option? Although the inner angst is sometimes overworked, the story has the pace of a thriller, and kept my attention.
Did the carjacker know about the little girl in the backseat? After the tense hours of searching turn into days, Mo Hadley’s Gone has you hooked on a chase for the monster – who was really after the girl, not the car. But nothing is as it seems, and Hadley throws in clever distractions to keep you from seeing him – right there the whole time.
Each time, detective Jack Caffery gets a break in the investigation, another clue takes him in another direction. The Walking Man, a released convict, who avenged the death of his abducted child, wanders in and out of the story, offering advice. Caffery’s relationship with the underwater investigation team leader, Sergeant (Phoebe) Flea Marley, underscores the action. Even as they work together, they are pulled apart by Flea’s cover-up of her brother’s hit-and-run, another vein pulsing through the action.
The kidnapper flaunts his cleverness – sending mocking letters, a baby tooth, pictures from inside the victim’s home, and always seems to be one step ahead of the investigation team. And then he does it again – hijacks a car and takes another little girl.
Hadley’s attention to detail is riveting, and the end is not easily guessed – a fun mystery thriller that will have you reading into the night. If you need your mystery thrillers to have a British flavor and a happy ending, you will find this one very satisfying.
If you want more, Mo Hayder has two more in the series of mystery thrillers with Jack Caffery, Flea, and the Walking Man: Ritual and Skin.