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.
I read one of Alafair Burke’s books (THE DEAD CONNECTION) last year because I had read so many positive things about her work. But while I didn’t hate the book it didn’t excite me much other, and is in my database as a ‘meh’ book which for me means one of the many (many) modern thrillers/crime stories that could take place anywhere, feature any one of several interchangeable protagonists and is entertaining enough while you read it but entirely forgettable within a week. I used to read a lot of these in what I consider to be ‘the dark days’ when I didn’t know there was better, or at least more varied, stuff to be found.
I agree, Bernadette, it’s what one might have called in the old cinema days a “B picture”. Lots of books are like that, I still come up with a few of them but as you say, I read a lot fewer of them these days than I did pre-internet and having online-reading friends 😉
I’ve heard of the author but not tried any of her books. Not sure if this one grabs me. I know what you mean about other authors recommending books. Trouble is, it is so endemic, I pay absolutely no attention to the recommendations any more.
Agreed, Sarah, many of these blurbists are seen so frequently that they can’t possibly have read the books……Colin Cotterill once wrote a post about this, saying that some authors just send a “quote” to the potential blurbist, who can reply “yes” or “no”, ie no need to bother with the actual reading. How dishonest for real readers. This particular book does have an exceptionally high number, though. Perhaps they all meet up in the bar at book conventions and stitch it all up to blurb each other’s books 😉
Maxine – Thanks for an excellent review, as ever. I’ve honestly not been tempted to read Alafair Burke’s work, despite the luminaries who recommend it. And it’s mostly for the reasons you outline. People whose opinions I trust are not nearly as enthusiastic about it. So I may read this, as you say, to pass the time. But not at the moment…
Her first few books about a lawyer were good I think, Margot. I tried one of her subsequent “NYPD” novels and did not think much of it. This is the next one I’ve tried….not sure if I’ll read more.
I can’t trust author’s blurbs either. We should form a club.
I started this one on my Nook, but it wasn’t a copy I bought so it expired before I finished it and I’ve not been tempted to get a library copy so far. I’ve been in a mystery/crime slump lately, though I have been enjoying Missing by K Alvtegen you suggested, so maybe that will get things going again.
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