Jason and Nora Danvers have left New York City for a new start in Jason’s hometown, Ednaville, Ohio. They are working on their marriage after a rough patch and a period of counseling. In Ednaville, old memories surround Jason, especially the disappearance of his best friend, Logan Shaw, on the night of their high school graduation twenty-seven years ago. No one has had contact with Logan since that night. A few phone calls with his former girlfriend bring even more worries to the surface, but Jason’s most vivid emotional connection to those years is with his sister, Hayden, whom he has not seen for five years.
When Hayden shows up at Jason’s home with seventeen-year-old daughter Sierra in tow, Jason and Nora are surprised and thrilled but worried that, although Hayden claims she is now sober, they cannot trust her promises. Nevertheless, they are willing to take Hayden at face value and agree to keep Sierra with them for two days while Hayden addresses some issues from her past that she must make right if she is going to make this new way of life work. When Hayden fails to return on time, not only does Jason fear that his sister has fallen into her old ways but that she may possibly have brought the unsavory characters from her past into their lives. Before long, the secrets of the past have polluted the present—and maybe even cost Hayden her life.
One of the most glaring issues in this novel is the age of the characters and their behavior. Though most of the characters are middle-aged (near forty-five), they speak, think and act like thirty-somethings rather than more mature adults. As the plot evolves, linking old events to new, the novel fails to achieve a real-world sensibility, the drama of an unsolved disappearance combined with whatever has happened to keep Hayden from returning for her daughter. It reads more like an isolated town in the 1960s than a contemporary environment. Granted, Ednaville is a city of limited population, but Ohio is not divorced from the rest of the world; it simply functions on a smaller scale.
We know Nora and Jason have had marital issues, but the emotions involved are all swept under the rug in a series of facile conversations. In the same manner, Hayden’s activities as a wild teen are described but not explored as the relationship between brother and sister is damaged in the process. Jason’s experiences in the prologue (a suspect in Logan Shaw’s disappearance who is treated as though he has something to hide) sets the stage for further difficulties twenty-seven years later, but there are so many other bad actors involved by then that Jason is rendered a straw man at best.
The mystery-thriller genre is filled with options, and many contemporary authors have met the challenge with really engaging plots and interesting characters. Unfortunately, The Forgotten Girl never has the kind of energy need for a compelling experience, relying on clichéd themes (the sober woman making amends, marital disharmony, a “disappeared” teen decades earlier), each element tangentially clinging to another for cohesion. The novel never really comes to life, like a B-grade movie chasing after the audience of a blockbuster. (Whatever you do, don’t peruse the Reader’s Guide Questions at the end of the book before you have read The Forgotten Girl. The spoilers will dispel any mystery involved!)