Monday, November 21, 2011

Cemetery Girl - David Bell

Cemetery Girl
David Bell
New American Library

Crime Fiction

Four years ago, when she was only twelve, Caitlin disappeared.  She went out to walk the dog in the park that borders a cemetery near her home.  The dog came home, but Caitlin didn’t.  The police investigated, but seemed to suspect that she might have run away.  Her parents, Tom and Abby, were left to pick up the pieces of what had been their life together.  As is often the case, a rift opened in the marriage and only got wider and deeper over time.  Abby feels that it’s time to move on, to “turn the page” in life, regarding Caitlin.  Tom disagrees; feeling that this is tantamount to giving up hope on their only daughter.

During the four years, Tom continued to post flyers with age-progressed photos.  He’s worked with a lawyer and advocate for victims of crime.  He’s followed every lead and listened to every theory.  He contacts the police with every lead.  Finally, a woman comes forward with a story of seeing Caitlin.  According to her, Caitlin has been in the area the entire time.  Part of Tom refuses to believe that, but he would do anything, go anywhere, to get her home.  When that day comes – when the police deliver Caitlin back to her parents – she’s not just four years older.  She’s like a different person.  Tom thought that simply having her back alive would be enough.  Now that it’s happened, he realizes that simply having her isn’t enough.  He wants to know “what happened” during those four years.

This is a difficult book to read, for multiple reasons.  First, and most obviously, because it involves a child.  Each parent has a completely different point of view, and neither one is wrong.  Abby finds comfort in her church; Tom occupies himself with the search.  Abby wants to place a grave marker as a sign of closure.  Tom hates the idea, since it seems like admitting defeat.  Abby has the backing of her pastor; Tom has the backing of his half-brother, who was himself a suspect in Caitlin’s disappearance.  Once Caitlin is home, Tom still wants to know the truth.  Abby wants to put it all behind them.  They both have their child's best interest at heart, but cannot find a middle ground.

Of course, as the reader sees long before Tom does, that truth is going to come at a steep price.  There’s no good answer to why the child was missing for four years.  It’s going to involve some kind of violence.  But Tom won’t let it go.  Even when the police and everyone around him want him to, he continues his quest.  Even when Caitlin, a virtual stranger now, demands that he not ask her about her time away, he can’t help himself.  The author tells the story through Tom’s eyes, and while he’s not infallible, he seems like a living, breathing person with a past, hopes for a future, and an almost impossible present.  There are no easy answers, and not much possibility of a happy ending here.  Still, it is a compelling read for those who enjoy crime fiction.  I missed out on some sleep just to find out “what happened.”

Rating: 9
October 2011
ISBN# 978-0-451-23467-4 (trade paperback)


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