Review: The teenaged daughter of a "blended" family fails to turn up at home, leading the authorities to fear the worst in Paradise Falls, a stand-alone thriller by Jonnie Jacobs.
Caitlin Whittington lives with her mother and step-father — and with his similarly aged children from a previous marriage, Adam and Lucy, who frequently stay over — in the small town of Paradise Falls, Oregon. When Caitlin's father fails to pick her up after school one night — it was his weekend to have her stay with him — she decides to hike home alone. But she never made it. The police are reluctant to relate her disappearance to that of another teenaged girl, who disappeared several months earlier, a case that remains open with no suspects. Indeed, it's not even called a murder investigation because there is no body. Nonetheless, the press, and Caitlin's family, and even the town as a whole can't help but notice similarities between the two cases.
In many ways, Paradise Falls is a superior novel of suspense. It's the story of complex family dynamics and how a tragedy can quickly tear down the fragile framework built by parents of children living together but not related by blood. It's also the story of one determined police detective, Rayna Goodwin, who must investigate the case knowing exactly what it feels like to have a child go missing; her daughter Kimberly was missing for almost two years before her body was discovered.
But accompanying this strongly developed plotline are lots of unnecessary words. Consider this paragraph about Caitlin's mother Grace that takes place a day or so after Caitlin disappears:
Out of habit, Grace washed her face with the special non-drying cleanser the saleswoman at Macy's had told her helped eliminate wrinkles, then smoothed the peach-scented night cream over her face, careful to avoid getting it in her eyes. But she was only going through the motions. Her mind and heart were being held captive far away in a dark and frightening place.
As good as Paradise Falls is, it is about 80-100 pages too long … and could have been so much better had the narrative been more crisply written. The key element of that paragraph above is that Grace's mind is being held captive — how could any mother feel differently? — and yet that is nearly lost by the facts that she shopped at Macy's and is concerned about the appearance of wrinkles. Details are important in a crime novel, but they need to contribute to the story, not detract from it.
Still, this is a relatively minor complaint for a whodunit-style mystery that tries to be, and generally succeeds at being, so much more.
Acknowledgment: the author provided an ARC of Paradise Falls for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Paradise Falls: Oregon
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Paradise Falls by Jonnie Jacobs
Publisher: Five Star
Publication Date: March 2012
List Price: $25.95