There is a particular joy in watching a writer one admires journey from their initial successes into a new career phase. In the case of Tara Laskowski, her track record with short story publication in literary journals, genre-focused magazines, and a few small-press single author collections bodes very well for her first foray into the art of novel writing. If One Night Gone is anything to go by, readers will have shelves full of Laskowski-authored books in the years ahead.
One Night Gone is a novel that falls most closely under the domestic suspense umbrella. There is plenty of psychological acuity within the novel, but it is a nice change of pace to see a narrator who is not particularly unreliable – at least no more so than the average individual. The novel starts with Allison Simpson taking on some house-sitting duties for a wealthy property during the off-season at Opal Beach, New Jersey. On the rebound from a marriage that fell apart and without her television job due to an understandable, but unacceptable on-air meltdown, Allison feels the seclusion will help the healing process.
Before long, Allison is meeting the locals and learning the ways of the community. A misunderstanding with the barista at a popular hangout leads to a friendship between Allison and this long-time resident. Tammy eventually opens up to Allison and tells her about the disappearance of her best friend back in 1986. Maureen was a girl who came into town as an employee of a traveling carnival, who quickly found herself hobnobbing with Clay Bishop, the son of a prominent and rich family. However, before that summer was over, Maureen was gone and no one has heard from her since. Tammy is convinced that something tragic happened and recruits Allison’s help in trying to solve this mystery.
The present day storyline is occasionally, and with increasing regularity, interrupted by chapters from Maureen’s perspective, detailing the events of that long-ago summer. Anyone familiar with beach towns along the Delmarva and Eastern seaboard during the mid-1980s will feel a sense of nostalgia reading those sections of One Night Gone. Even though Opal Beach is a fictitious location, Laskowski embeds just the right amount of authentic references that harken back to actual vacation locales sending readers off reflecting about their own beach-going adventures. For those who are unfamiliar with the trademarks of these unique places – where the mirage of ease and relaxation obfuscates the darker underbelly of poverty and crime existing just beyond the next dune – Laskowski provides plenty of ambience to help root them to the sandy shores.
Both of the lead characters are relatable and interesting, but it would not be surprising to find that some readers have a favorite between them. This will likely depend on personal circumstances. However, Allison and Maureen share at least one trait that will appeal to all readers. These are women who, even in the face of adversity, never give up or give in – especially as it relates to the men in their lives. There is much to admire in the way they handle delicate and painful situations. Tara Laskowski weaves a motif throughout the novel, returning to the idea of mermaids several times, which fits these characters so well. Mermaids are typically portrayed as fierce females, but they are also tied to the innocence and wonder of youth.
Another recurring element within One Night Gone is the idea of pictures. Within the plot, photographs and videotapes play a significant role and one of the older residents of Opal Beach is a painter who specializes in landscapes – particularly those relating to the traveling carnival. Since Laskowski’s writing is so visual and descriptive, readers can easily envision these important elements.
One Night Gone is the type of book that demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. Part of this is most certainly the propulsive plotting, but there is also something about these people that hook readers, like fish drawn to a sparkly lure. Tara Laskowski’s characters are so multifaceted that it is difficult not to think about them during those moments when the book is set aside. This is a sign of a born storyteller. Jump aboard now and follow this career to new heights.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.