Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on Where They Found Her.
The comments section in the online edition of local newspaper The Ridgedale
Reader may hold the key in this small-town murder mystery, adding several layers to an investigation that begins when rookie reporter, Molly Sanderson gets a call that someone has reported a body up by the Essex Bridge. Molly has never covered anything remotely like a dead body. It’s rare to discover something so horrific in quiet, salubrious Ridgedale. Although the victim is yet to be identified, Steve, the lead detective and first on the scene, has a hunch the body is somehow connected to the defensive Ridgedale University, which owns the wooded area near the
Molly tries to confirm the facts, yet Steve can give little indication whether the victim--a newborn baby girl--died of natural causes. Molly is propelled to learn more as she thinks about her own lost baby, how it
was so “hot and alive.” She remembers her devastation when she and Justin, her husband,
went for their routine 36-week checkup and their doctor couldn’t find Ella’s heartbeat. This is certainly not the sort of secret you would publicize in Ridgedale, an upper-middle class community full of trendy boutiques and expensive coffee shops.
Moving backwards and telling her story from different perspectives, McCreight casts a psychological spell, a combination of charm and confidence personified by several characters: Stella, Molly’s moneyed best friend;
Stella’s son, Aiden; and Barbara, Steve’s neurotic wife, who from the outset makes it clear there was no reason to suspect it was “some random thing,” or even a killer on the loose. In Barbara’s words, “the baby’s mother is responsible,” a notion that is sure to ricochet throughout the world of Barbara’s high-maintenance teenage daughter, Hannah, who has a secret that she confides to her best friend, Sandy. Sandy knows about Hannah’s lies, yet she’s determined to stick by
the friend who has tried to help her when most people have never bothered.
Sandy--perhaps the most vulnerable character--frantically searches for her mother, who refuses to answer her text messages. Sandy fears that Jenna has quite possibly done a runner or even been murdered by one of her loser boyfriends. We soon learn that Jenna has kept a diary for her entire adult life, and mixed into her mundane everyday musings are some terribly dark secrets. Jenna has recently returned to Ridgedale with Sandy, and mother and daughter have been eking out a living in the “Commons,” “the cheapest and shittiest area in all of Ridgedale,” a place notorious for criminal activity and for drugs. Three months behind on rent and unable to scrape the money together, Jenna resorts to telling her daughter the whole ugly story, the awful, painful secrets, and how messed up she really was.
Dark, twisted, and taut, McCreight’s story is like walking through a field of land mines. The long-buried secrets that torment Molly threaten to derail her marriage to Justin and her friendship with Stella. With her thoughts weighing in on her, the baby, and Stella, and “my other baby,” Molly’s carefully calibrated life is already floating up and away “as if someone has pushed open a vent.”
Between the past and the future, among all of her mistakes and shortcomings, Molly becomes consumed by all the ways she has failed Justin, and Ella, perhaps even herself.
Circumstances will bring Sandy and Hannah together and bond them forever as they face an enemy and deal with life-and-death situations they never saw coming. Barbara, the most multi-dimensional character, is at war with her feelings of social inadequacy. As the rumors descend upon Ridgedale, Barbara becomes consumed by the welfare of her young son, Cole, who suddenly starts having developmental problems. Barbara is cold, callous and self-obsessed to the point that she casually turns up on Stella’s front doorstep, threatening both her and Aiden.
With her investigative instincts powered up, Molly explores a series of unreported sexual attacks on the Ridgedale College Campus that led half a dozen women to leave: six young women have withdrawn from Ridgedale University in about a decade. She also places the more salacious details onto the online edition of the
Ridgedale Reader, to find out what happened even when the truth will probably implicate those she cares for. Stella suspected that pretty, vulnerable Rose Gowan was raped on campus and withdrew from her classes. Sandy remains mystified at Jenna’s whereabouts while becoming mesmerized by the alluring magic of Aiden, who is using his power over everyone around him to get what he wants.
In a dark, dysfunctional tangle of rape, violence and murder, red-herrings abound while McCreight sumptuously layers seemingly innocuous events, allowing her characters to make flawed judgments which in turn leads them to behave in irrevocable ways. Even the best-laid plans for vengeance can be sabotaged if someone else is brought into them.
The darkness of the past swirls around and around. There is no doubt about what Molly will do when she is faced with the last terrible revelation.
I was shocked at the ending. McCreight kept me guessing, even when her multi-pronged narrative sometimes becomes a bit confusing. Steamrolling towards its dramatic and even surprising conclusion, the novel rips away the carefully wrought layers of Ridgedale’s wealthy, elitist charade, exposing the crux of cruelty and desperation along with an epic, pitiless arc of betrayal and revenge.