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by Emily Elgar
Harper Paperbacks, January 2020
336 pages
ISBN: 0062945637

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Meg Nichols and her invalid daughter Grace are minor celebrities in their small Cornish village. The two appear as a paradigm of a perfect mother-daughter relationship, Meg celebrated for her utter devotion to her wheelchair-bound daughter, a teenager who unfailingly smiles and charms despite her physical disabilities, which are many.

Wishmakers, the local version of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, is happy to do what it can to ease Grace's pain, even though she is physically unable to take advantage of a trip she desperately wanted to undertake before she ages out of eligibility for the charity's gifts. The entire town seems united in care and concern for the two, so much so that when a journalist writes a story suggesting that Grace's father Simon is being unfairly prevented from seeing his daughter, the reporter, Jon, becomes the town pariah for his views, someone whose mere presence provokes intense hostility. And his career is in ruins.

So who indeed would be responsible for the bloody assault on Meg that left her dead and Grace gone from the house? Of course immediate suspicion falls on Simon and Jon, racked with guilt at the thought that his defence of the man might have played a role in the attack, is determined to find Grace. He is further motivated as the father of a child who once was seriously ill with leukemia but now is in remission.

The story unfolds in alternating first-person narratives by Jon and by Cara, next-door neighbour and good friend of the somewhat younger Grace. It was Cara who discovered Meg's battered body and raised the alarm for the missing Grace. She to is racked with guilt as she gradually began to neglect Grace as she grew older. She and Jon gradually become allies in the search, though Cara is never fully convinced of Jon's commitment.

Although this alternate viewpoint strategy can work extremely well in a thriller, it adds little to the complexity of the novel here, since there is very little difference in tone between the two speakers. They go different places and pursue different leads, but they sound very much the same, though the device probably does help bulk out the length a bit. But it also means that there is little room for any serious investigation of the dynamics of the town's investment in Meg and Grace, which might have been an interesting avenue to explore.

The author has said that she was initially inspired by a real-life case, one which I had never heard of. Certainly knowledge of that case would spoil whatever surprise the reveal might hold. Sadly, it was fairly apparent from early on what that surprise was likely to be, even without any familiarity with a factual model, though it is true that there is a twist in its tail that one might not foresee.

I should point out that the reviews, both professional and by readers, have been far more enthusiastic about GRACE IS GONE than I can manage. So you may find it more to your liking than I did. It is certainly well-written and reasonably engaging, even if it does not explore the complexities of character to the degree that it might. I can't say that I quite see the reason for its favourable response, but that may be my failing. You may feel wholly otherwise.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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