Reality proves to be a deceptive force in Cook’s dense and metaphorical novel centering on the whereabouts of a missing woman and a man
living in a no-man’s-land between constant dread and sudden panic. A poet and an amateur author, thirty-one-year-old Katherine Carr was last seen standing near a little rock grotto over the Winthrop River back in 1987, when she suddenly vanished “like she cut a slit on the world and stepped right through it.”
When retired travel writer George Gates hears about Katherine’s disappearance from his old friend Arlo McBride, he cannot get her off his mind. Like a spider spinning the first delicate fiber of its web, George finds himself precipitously caught up in Katherine’s strange mystery and is compelled to discover her fate, and perhaps even to bring to a close all of the many rumors surrounding her vanishing.
George is a damaged soul with a haunted past. He continues to lament the sudden loss of Teddy, his eight-year-old son who, several years earlier, was brutally murdered one afternoon while waiting for George to collect him after school. While Teddy’s body was eventually discovered - weighted with stones and stuck to the muddy bottom of the Winthrop River - his killer was never found.
Embittered and battered, George finds his world dropping away, with the twisted fate of Katherine Carr somehow driving him to discover the truth. When Arlo gives him the opening chapters of a story Catherine wrote and a few poems from
Katherine's friend Audrey, George is propelled into the murky world of unresolved mysteries and missing elements that seem to make little sense.
George is helped in his quest by Alice Burrows, a dying twelve-year-old girl afflicted with the aging disease progeria. Unusually bright and possessed of a tremendous curiosity, Alice works with George to unlock the cryptic beginnings of Katherine’s story
- but Alice doesn’t have much time left. Even as she stoically faces the hopelessness of her situation, fanatically tapping away on her laptop computer, George emotionally connects Alice to Teddy then to the unsolved disappearance of Katherine.
Cook’s sinister story is framed around George’s search for answers - not just who murdered Teddy but also of the vanished Katherine. If Katherine didn’t kill herself or wasn’t murdered, why did she vanish? Was her story a desperate note, a plea for someone to save her? Was she murdered by the “unknown man” or the mysterious figure called Maldrow, who oddly appears throughout her story? Even now, in his solitary state, the world impinges on George while Alice slowly deteriorates in a terrible confluence of events.
A truly literary and unusually haunting tale, dark horrors and talk of blood flicker from shadowy corners and ghostly apparitions appear in the form
of serial murderers and child killers. Not for the faint of heart, this novel is somewhat reminiscent of
1940’s crime noir, where figures of pure malice exist beside hideous villains on the edges of a morally blank world, where a young woman and an innocent boy - both on the verge of living a full life - are cast into a darkness as deep as a bottomless pit.