Monday, January 7, 2013

The One I Left Behind - Jennifer McMahon

First line: "It began with the hands."

Reggie Dufrane is a highly esteemed architect. She's at the top of her game, recently named one of the top green architects in the Northeast. She also has commitment issues. Her relationship with her "boyfriend" is one involving no strings; her relationship with her aunt is one involving no face-to-face contact. Her relationship with her mother ended abruptly in 1985 when Vera Dufrane was kidnapped by a serial killer and presumed dead. The killer, Neptune, would sever the right hand of his victims and leave it on the steps of the police station. Then several days later, the body would be found. In Vera's case the hand arrived on the steps of the station house, but her body was never found.  That is until 2010 when a social worker from Massachusetts calls to inform the Dufrane family that Vera is there, very much alive. She's been in and out of homeless shelters, living under an assumed name, but she's finally admitted who she really is. The re-emergence of Vera is traumatic enough, but her return also signals the return of Neptune. And Neptune is out to kill again.

A complex novel blending well-crafted suspense and deliciously rich characters, THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND is a spell-binding read. Jennifer McMahon weaves in several red herrings making the outcome unpredictable. But in addition, she spins a story of the lives of her characters that is so engrossing, the reader isn't focused on outsmarting the author, the reader is focused on the relationship he/she is building with these new friends.

McMahon's language is graceful and endearing. The perspective alternates chapters between a young, impressionable child and an older, hardened adult. Either perspective is delivered as though McMahon were telling her own story. The dialogue is seamless and the observations and thoughts are astute.

This is my first experience reading McMahon, and I'm terribly excited to have finally discovered her work. Any fans of psychological thrillers should make it a point to pick this book up, but also any fans of strong character-driven plots. The characters are quirky in such a way as to deliver a message that we are all dysfunctional in some way. And they are quirky in such a way as to make them empathetic and endearing.

The only comment I would make on this book that might lean toward negative is connected to the cover. While I think the cover is stunning and evocative, when I went to find more of McMahon's work, I found that all of her covers looking frighteningly similar. And for stand alone novels I wonder if that might lead some readers to insinuate that the novels are all essentially the same. I hope it doesn't cause anyone to pass over THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND. That would be a sad outcome.

THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND is available from William Morrow in trade paperback (ISBN: 9780062122551). An unabridged audio version (ISBN: 9780062204837) is also available from Harper Audio, narrated by Julia Whelan.


Pop Culture Nerd January 8, 2013 at 1:29 AM  

You are braver than I. I picked this up for some bedtime reading the other night, and immediately freaked out about the severed hands. I'm prone to nightmares so I had to put the book down. I enjoyed 2 of Jennifer's previous books, though, so will try again in the daytime. Good to hear you liked it so much.

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