Book review: Long Gone by Alafair Burke

Long Gone
by Alafair Burke
Avon (Harper Collins), 2011

Long Gone is a readable thriller set in New York and environs. Alice Humphrey is the daughter of a rich, famous movie star. However, she wants to make her own way in the world so has been living off her own salary and was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until the organisation had to downsize. Now, Alice is unemployed and desperate for a job before she has to turn to her father for help.

By chance, Alice meets the handsome Drew Campbell at an art exhibition. He offers her a job running his new gallery – with the catch being that the first artist to be shown there has to be a young man who is in a relationship with the (inevitably) anonymous man who is putting up the money. The “art” consists of distasteful photographs of parts of the body, but Alice sees nothing illegal in these so leaps at the chance, soon becoming absorbed in the details of launching the new venture. She does not see Campbell again; he communicates with her via text messages from a withheld number.

Of course, all goes horribly wrong, as the reader, if not Alice, has come to suspect. The gallery opens but is soon compromised by a demonstration on the street outside by some “religious extremists” who think the pictures in the exhibition are child pornography. After Alice makes many failed attempts to find out more about the provenance of the photographs to see if she can prove they are legal, and to contact Campbell, he finally calls her and arranges to meet her the next morning at the gallery to decide what to do about the protesters. When Alice arrives, she finds a dead body.

Alice finds herself to be the chief suspect in the murder enquiry that follows, and the rest of the book mainly concerns her attempts to prove her innocence while the evidence seems to be piling up against her. She has two friends, but can they be trusted? Some of these aspects are well done, for example the use of Facebook in various key plot points. At the same time, the narrative is fleshed out by Alice’s troubled relationships with her parents and brother Ben, as well as a couple of subplots – one involving an FBI agent’s obsession with a man who was responsible for his sister’s death; the other involving a missing girl from New Jersey. This last story is by far the darkest in the book, depicting unsentimentally the ruthlessness of teenage group behaviour, abetted by social media, as well as another bleak parental theme.

Up until about half-way through the book I found the story to be predictable. Alice does seem extremely naive for a 30-something woman living in New York. Nevertheless, in the second half the story picks up quite a bit, as we learn more about Alice’s family and how current events are related to dark deeds from the past. The plotting is good even if some of the developments are rather heavily signalled; Alice is an attractive protagonist who becomes more independent and more of her own woman as the book pans out and she is able both to confront her fears about her father as well as to follow up some leads that the police will not. I found the subplot about the missing girl very uncomfortable, as well as rather tacked-on to the main story. The climax to the book is somewhat clunky, in that almost everyone turns out to be not what they seem, and there is one dramatic section very near the end which I felt was dealt with in an over-hasty fashion. To sum up, I’d say this is an engaging “romantic thriller”, not a great one but one that, if you are happy to suspend belief for the duration, will pass the time while you see if you can work out the various threads of plot, and which are red herrings, before the author chooses to reveal them.

I purchased this book as a Kindle promotion. Every major US crime writer seems to have contributed a positive comment in the Amazon product description! (Coben, Lehane, Lippman, Connelly, Unger, Gerritsen, Grafton, Reichs, Fairstein, L. Gardner, etc.)

Other reviews of Long Gone are at Murder by Type (the post that made me decide to read the book), A Bookworm’s World, Dot Scribbles, The Washington Post, and Jen’s Book Thoughts.