The One I Left Behind
Reviewed by Amanda Clark, BCPL adult programming supervisor
Jennifer McMahon’s books have always scared me. Typically, the cover art is a beautiful little girl with eyes that draw me to pick up the book.
Even the titles are compelling. “Don’t Breathe a Word” and “Promise Not to Tell” leave me asking, “Why?” “What?” I’m intrigued. So I read the jacket, only to find out it is a story about a child disappearing, being murdered, or some other tragedy. I never make it past there. I read before bed, so I don’t need images of missing, murdered or broken children floating around in my head before I close my eyes.
But when I read the cover of McMahon’s new book, “The One I Left Behind,” I thought, “I can do this.” This time the girl on the cover was older and the story was not about an innocent child meeting his or her demise. It is the story of Regina (Reggie) Dufrane, a successful architect running headlong into the past she’s tried so desperately to forget.
In the summer of 1985, thirteen year-old Reggie’s life is changed forever. A serial killer named Neptune terrifies her hometown. He kidnaps women, cuts off the right hand and leaves it on the police department steps. Five days later, he leaves the body in a conspicuous place around town. His last victim is Reggie’s mother. Her hand appears on the police department step, but her body is never found.
Twenty-five years later, Reggie gets a call that her mother has been found, alive. Reggie takes her home to the house they shared with her aunt. McMahon begins the story here.
Reggie’s mother’s body is wracked with cancer and her mind is wrecked by whatever has befallen her in the last 25 years. She turned up in a homeless shelter. No one knows where she’s been and she’s not telling.
McMahon crafts the novel in alternating chapters from the points-of-view of 13-year-old Reggie and 38-year-old Reggie. Scattered between are excerpts from a fictional crime novel about Neptune’s killing spree. Each element helps move the story along and lets the reader see the whole picture.
While in Brighton Falls caring for her mother, Reggie learns that her childhood friend disappears, apparently at the hands of Neptune. He’s back. Reggie decides it is up to her to find out who Neptune is before her friend ends up dead and on display in town – much like she tried to do when her mother went missing.
I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the story. But I can tell you that McMahon has created a wonderful novel with well-developed characters and more plot twists than you can count. To quote People Magazine: “McMahon’s gift is the deliciously twisty way she subverts all of your expectations, keeping you guessing with wry wit and feverish chills.” I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t put this book down. I guess it’s a good thing I decided to actually pick it up!
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