Trish Dvorak is at first a mere diversion in Maeve Conlon’s life as the owner of a celebrated café/bakery in the town of Farringdale--that is, until Maeve becomes a major player in the unfolding drama of Trish’s daughter’s disappearance. Maeve’s temporary employee, rail-thin Trish, has been worrying about Taylor’s college prospects and is resentful of the reality that her ex-husband recently married money and now lives in one of Farringdale’s most salubrious neighborhoods. Forced to work several jobs, Trish initially asks Maeve if she can take deliveries for her.
It isn’t until Taylor goes missing one school lunch time that Maeve senses that Trish is spiraling dangerously out of control.
Into this mix of small-town life, where Farringdale’s haves and have-nots prepare for their celebrated Founders Day, Chris Larsson--who
Maeve has been dating for a few months--is assigned as lead detective in Taylor’s case. Although Maeve was busy that morning when the school nurse called to tell Maeve to ask permission from Trish for Taylor to go straight home to bed, she’s vague on more specifics
as to where Taylor actually might be. Her initial thought is that the girl lied,
while Trish immediately assumes her daughter was abducted. Given their suspicions are on opposite ends of the spectrum, Chris immediately issues an all-points bulletin and then starts plying Heather, Maeve’s recalcitrant daughter, for more information. Heather tells Chris and Maeve that Taylor is a typical teen who hates her mother.
Maeve has her own issues with her daughter. Heather keeps secrets and goes out when she isn’t supposed to.
She has a mysterious boyfriend who Maeve doesn’t yet know and as a result can’t keep track of--a situation that adds more stress to Maeve’s daily struggles. Maeve decides to initiate her own investigation, getting her friend Jo to help mind the café while she traverses Farringdale’s various neighborhoods, harassing Taylor’s wealthy father, Charles Connors, his stepson, Jesse, and handsome soccer teacher David Barnham, who lives in an isolated cabin on the outskirts of the town. As Maeve works to pull out all
the threads from the mysterious spool, she’s convinced that everything points to Barnham’s involvement in Taylor’s disappearance. He seems perfectly nice, but the early morning kayaking and
rumors of schoolgirls and wild parties add to Maeve’s suspicions.
Maeve becomes a memorable amateur sleuth as Barbieri attempts to flesh out her heroine’s back story,
which focuses on Maeve’s search for the identity of her intellectually challenged sister’s father and her continuing battle with her ex-husband, Cal, who sees Maeve as a scapegoat for his continuing infidelity. As her mind reels with thoughts of missing Taylor, Maeve discovers that she has a new reason to engage. Maeve has the chops to do what the Farringdale Police Department can’t. Deciding she will find Taylor using whatever means, Maeve takes off in her Prius at all hours of the night from her suburban Farringdale home to drive the streets of town. Maeve feels responsible for Taylor’s disappearance, but she’s also plagued by the real possibility that her daughter hates her and wants nothing to do with her.
All Barbieri’s characters will play a major part in the investigation, especially a
desperate, increasingly hostile Trish, who throws a verbal Molotov cocktail into the mix when she finally confesses--amid
insinuations of blackmail--about Taylor’s bad home life, how they’re forced to live in a dingy apartment behind a half-empty strip mall while Heather’s father lives in the lap of luxury and assists his stepson financially. A pivotal moment is Maeve’s conversation with Trish on the socioeconomic realities of life as a single mother. Maeve is also a single mother and has to practically break her back to make ends meet. Cal
is also turning back to Maeve after unceremoniously leaving her years earlier.
His desertion and infidelity is a wound Maeve finds has never really closed.
Chris Larsson has an uncomplicated demeanor that Maeve at first finds attractive. He’s a kindhearted man who doesn’t let his lack of confidence stand in the way of doing the most important thing he will ever do: finding Taylor. Maeve refuses to be sidetracked either by Chris or by his
seductive boss, taut, thin Suzanne Carstairs, who is determined to flush out the secrets of those in Farrindale whom she thinks are hiding things from her. As Heather’s obstinacy about Taylor’s whereabouts increases, Chris’s attentiveness to Maeve and her daughter begins to collapse
while Maeve’s own investigation begins to make headway, producing a goldmine of information that strafes just below the brittle underbelly of Farringdale’s quiet, neighborly streets.
Barbieri’s suburban mystery might at first appear to be about denials and lies, but it’s also about economic inequality and the struggles of single motherhood. In the end, the title proves that, yes, desperate people will do desperate, evil things. Meanwhile, Maeve continues to wonder where she will fit in once all of the pieces of her life are shuffled and reassembled. Hopefully she
(like us) won’t have long to wait until the next installment in Barbieri’s entertaining series.