Sunday, July 27, 2014

Top Summer Suspense: THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica

THE GOOD GIRL is a debut thriller from Mary Kubica, a married mom of two who lives outside Chicago and has a degree in history and American literature. Now, forget the author details and focus on the book -- because this is one of the summer's big winners.

When wealthy but unhappy Chicago socialite Eve Dennett gets a phone call from one of her daughter's colleagues at an inner-city school, she brushes off the caller's concern about Mia Dennett not showing up for work. As far as Eve and her judge husband are concerned, Mia is a disappointing daughter, confused about her role in the world, unwilling to meet her parents' expectations, and a bit of a flake. If she's not at her art-teaching do-gooder job, well, maybe she forgot.

Detective Gabe Hoffman's main concern at first is meeting his sergeant's demands on a maybe-missing-person report that involves such powerful people; "Don't f** this one up," was the order from above. Not that Gabe would do so deliberately. But balancing the unpleasant emotions of the two Dennett parents with their reluctant and partial information is a challenge, for sure.

And then there's Mia herself: We meet her early in the book, through her mother's eyes, in a jump of the timeline as the two of them head out of a post-trauma psych appointment, with Mia's impatient and abrasive father ready to drive them home. Clearly, Mia's badly damaged by whatever it was, and whoever it was, who caused her abduction. Where has she been? How did she get there? Who is responsible for this?

Kubica uses a highly unusual framework to pry open the story in all its emotions and facts, alternating not only the narrators and points of view, but also the time at which they are communicating: "Before" Mia's return, and "After." Each chapter is neatly labeled with speaker and time zone -- and tightly packed with tension, shock, anger, and mixed motives. It's clear that only discovering what really happened is likely to free up Mia, whose amnesia includes a new name for herself, as well as multiple levels of fear, even to as small a thing as the radio being too loud.

But getting to the truth requires opening the layers of Mia and her life, and Kubica holds these layers tightly in suspense, even as winter's ravages push the urgency of the discovery process. It isn't until the final chapters that all of the details so painstakingly assembled build to "what happened."

There are two minor drawbacks to the book -- the sometimes challenging before/after framing (you have to pay close attention), and the present-tense narration, which is coupled with each character missing a lot of information that the others have. Yet those become gradually part of its power as a narrative. And the book's positives -- its relentless pace, its flawless peeling back of the psyche, its sometimes shocking but always acutely portrayed versions of what love is and what love does -- make this an amazing debut, and a mystery I expect that I'll always remember and compare others to.

The publication release date is July 29 (two days from when I'm writing this); that's enough time to place your own pre-order, or, if you want to think about things a bit further first, to explore the author's website, here. THE GOOD GIRL reveals a lot of pain, and a comparable amount of love and loyalty. Definitely worth reading, whether you get to it within the summer reading season or let it linger on the shelf until the long evenings of autumn or even the fierce windy winter in which its memorable chain of actions is set. Published by Harlequin's mystery arm, MIRA -- another example of how this imprint is bring out some of today's best mysteries.

No comments: