The Girl She Was by Alafair Burke: A twisting, turning and addictive mystery - book review -
Fifteen years after she was left for dead on a roadside in New Jersey, the woman who calls herself Hope Miller still has no idea who she really is.
And when Hope, who has no memory of her past, mysteriously goes missing, it will be left to her best friend, and a New York homicide detective, to find Hope and dig out the truth beneath some long-buried secrets.
Thriller writer Alafair Burke – whose gripping novels have grown out of her experience as a prosecutor in America’s police precincts and criminal courtrooms – has long played with the concept of a story featuring a case of rare and complete amnesia which would mean a person having to move forward without a sense of the past.
The result is The Girl She Was, a twisting, turning and addictive mystery about memory, friendship and secrets, and a welcome reunion with Burke’s well-known NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, the shining star of a cop series much loved by crime fans.
Written as a standalone, this intriguing page-turner – full of tantalising clues and wickedly clever red herrings – brings festering mysteries from Ellie’s own past into focus alongside the unfolding of Hope’s life before her traumatic brush with death.
Hope Miller is ‘a walking, talking, living, breathing real-life mystery.’ Fifteen years ago, she was found on the roadside in the small New Jersey town of Hopewell after being thrown from an overturned vehicle. Police could find no clue to her identity and she had no recollection of what had happened to her.
Doctors assumed her amnesia was a temporary side effect of her injuries but she never regained her memory. Hope eventually started a new life with a new name in the town that had welcomed her, but she always wondered what she may have left behind… or been running from.
Tired now of being known as ‘poor Hope,’ she is leaving New Jersey to start over once again in a place where she can blend in and be ‘normal,’ and has found a job that involves staging house viewings for a real estate agent in the Hamptons.
Manhattan defence lawyer Lindsay Kelly, Hope’s best friend in Hopewell and the one who found her after the accident, understands why Hope wants a new beginning but she worries how her friend will fare in her new East Hampton home, far away from everything and everybody she knows.
And Lindsay’s worst fears are confirmed when she discovers Hope has vanished without a trace… the only lead is a drop of blood found where she was last seen. Even more ominously, the blood matches a DNA sample with a connection to a notorious Kansas murderer.
With nowhere else to turn, Lindsay calls detective Ellie Hatcher, the daughter of the cop who dedicated his life to hunting that Kansas killer. Ellie has always believed there was more to the story of her father’s death twenty years earlier, and she now fears that Hope’s recent disappearance could be related.
In pursuit of answers, the women begin to dig deep for the truth and when their searches converge, what they find will transform everything they have ever known.
The Girl She Was is a cracking mystery story, with a cast of well-drawn characters and the missing memory trope providing plenty of surprises on what proves to be a full-on, rollercoaster ride. But there is also an unexpected and genuine tenderness to Lindsay’s loyal friendship with Hope, a close bond which compels her stop at nothing in her quest to discover the truth.
As always, Burke provides excellent investigative detail as the past throws up hidden traumas and shocking revelations which will, at long last, provide answers to not just Hope’s early life but the demons that have plagued Ellie since she was a teenager.
Fast paced, and with one final, satisfying twist, this is Burke at her thriller writing best!
(Faber & Faber, paperback, £8.99)