Over the last decade or so, Alafair Burke has been steadily making a name for herself as a keen observer of human nature and as a writer capable of translating those observations onto the page in a compelling way. In 2011, she brought a whole new cadre of devoted fans to her books by releasing her first standalone mystery, Long Gone. Now with her latest, another standalone, she is poised to once again please the reading public, both old and new.
Alafair Burke’s newest novel, If You Were Here, is billed as “a novel of suspense” and I can only assure readers that in this case, there is truth in advertising. If You Were Here is the story of McKenna Jordan, a journalist working in Manhattan, as she stumbles upon a case with ties to her own past. When McKenna hears about the mysterious woman who rescued a teenager from a fall on the subway tracks, she expects that it will be just another story for the evening edition. But when an exclusive contact provides her with a video of the incident, she is astonished to discover that the mystery woman looks an awful lot like her friend, Susan Hauptmann. The only problem is that Susan hasn’t been seen for almost a decade.
Susan Hauptmann had disappeared from McKenna’s life quite suddenly. Neither McKenna nor her husband, Patrick could explain why their long-time friend would vanish, but when police could find no reason to suspect that it was anything other than a woman who simply chose to move on, they were left with little choice but to put it aside. Yet, McKenna was never really able to ease her mind concerning Susan and now she was looking at evidence which could prove she had been right all along. Against the advice of her husband, friends and co-workers, McKenna begins to investigate both this mystery woman and Susan’s past, in an effort to prove that the two are connected.
Tied into their past together is an article McKenna wrote about a police involved shooting which happened around the time of Susan’s disappearance. While the Trayvon Martin shooting seems to have inspired this case, what Alafair Burke is able to do with this fictional incident is nothing short of gripping. There is enough depth to the case about the shooting of Marcus Jones to have been a book all on its own.
If You Were Here is structured in such a way that it is almost impossible to stop reading. With every turn of the page, new exciting developments twist the story in different directions. With almost a decade of back-story to fill in, a lesser writer would have failed to make the past exciting. But Alafair is able to do this successfully by employing multiple narrative techniques to dole out important past events in fascinating ways. There are true flashback scenes, there are discussions about the past, there are excerpts of chapters from a book that McKenna is writing concerning Marcus Jones and there are examinations of court transcripts and documents. All of this makes for a varied reading experience and hardly allows the reader time to breathe, much less get bored.
With blackmail and back-stabbing, conspiracies and cover-ups, Alafair Burke’s If You Were Here should be another breakout book of the season and yet one more step up in the continuing career of this wonderful author.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.