The title belies the rather predictable nature of this novel. A disappeared child is the focus of the plot, particularly as one of the main characters, Kate Russell, a newcomer to Carystown, Kentucky, tells the local sheriff, Bill Delaney, that she knows where the child is buried. Having already made peace with never knowing the child’s fate, Delaney is reluctant to credit Kate’s information with no facts to back her story.
Her mysterious past an enigma to the sheriff, her new friend, Francie, and love interest, Caleb, Kate remains not quite committed to this new life, unwilling to trust anyone but herself. Delaney keeps his eye on Kate as a person of interest should the child indeed be found. Unfortunately, it is necessary for the reader to sustain belief in Kate’s visions in order to sustain the plot, Isabella the key to the majority of problems. But why would this lost child choose the wishy-washy Kate as her mentor?
The rest of the novel portrays a Southern town with polite veneer that is suffering from the same ills as society at large: the slow spread of the drug culture, the usual infidelities and ill-starred love affairs, the shocking behavior of a rebellious youth culture. Delaney’s town is no more than a cherished idea, reality mired in murder, dishonesty, greed and the usual human failings.
Then two things happen to jump-start Delaney’s attention to Isabella Moon’s as-yet-unsolved disappearance: a local citizen is brutally murdered in her backyard, and a high school athlete collapses at practice, languishing in a coma in the hospital. Suddenly Delaney has too many serious issues on his desk, none of which present immediate answers.
With the support of a beloved wife whom he nearly lost to cancer, Delaney becomes the real hero of the piece, a man who wants to think the best of his neighbors but has to face the reality of criminal enterprise and how it has changed the face of Carystown. Although he is vaguely drawn to Kate’s air of vulnerability, he is a mature man capable of restraining his impulses, Kate unwilling to commit in any significant way to the place she has chosen to live.
Isabella Moon is a necessary construct to link an often clumsy storyline, Carystown peopled with megalomaniacs, murderers, hippies and the working folk who gather in local cafes to trade the latest rumors. The assortment of characters is varied and seedy: the handsome scion of the town’s most influential family who defies his mother for love; an obsessive husband (right out of Sleeping with the Enemy); a secret affair between an unlikely couple; and a self-indulgent businesswoman who is terrified of loneliness.
The violence, when it comes, is swift and brutal, often far more horrific than necessary. And watching them all is the ethereal Isabella Moon, the lost child in her yellow slicker and red boots with no one to lead her home.