The Missing One
By: Lucy Atkins
Publisher: Quercus (US)
Publication Date : 2/3/2015
My Rating: 4 Stars
In this gripping debut, The Missing One, Lucy Atkins takes us on one woman's terrifying journey to the beautiful and rugged Pacific Northwest to discover the dark secrets of her family's past so that she can understand and accept herself. Kal McKenzie was never close to her mother Elena, whose coldness towards her spoiled any chance of a good relationship. When Elena dies of cancer, Kal feels forlorn: how do you mourn a mother who, inexplicably, just didn't seem to love you?
While clearing out Elena's art studio, Kal finds a drawer packed with postcards, each bearing an identical one-line message from a Canadian gallery owner named Susannah Gillespie: “Thinking of you.” Who is this woman and what does she hold the key to her ruined relationship with her mother?
Conflicted by her grief and shaken up from recently seeing a covetous text from an old girlfriend on her husband's cell phone, Kal impulsively sets off with her toddler Finn to Susannah's isolated home on a remote British Columbian island. A place of killer whales and storms.
Soon Kal quickly realizes she has made a big mistake. The striking and enigmatic Susannah will only share a few scraps of information about Elena. Unbeknownst to her, she discovers that her mother was a pioneering orca researcher—an activist trying to save these powerful and dangerous creatures.
As Kal struggles to piece together her mother's past and what happened between Elena and Susannah in the 1970s, Susannah's behavior grows more and more erratic. Most worrying of all, Susannah is becoming increasingly preoccupied with little Finn. Kal's uneasiness soon proves true and Kal must confront the biggest threat to her family she has ever experienced.
Told in two competing narratives, The Missing One intermixes Kal's present day journey to with that of her mother's awakening as an independent woman, scientist, and activist. As these two narratives converge the novel transforms into a white-knuckle thriller where the secrets of the past imperil the lives of the present.
Interweaving local lore of how orcas protect those who travel away from home, and guides them back safely, in The Missing One Lucy Atkins wrestles with the question of how the past influences the present, and who has the right to own one's history.
A special thank you to Quercus (US) and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. for an honest review.
THE MISSING ONE, a gripping and emotional debut by Lucy Atkins, taking readers on a journey from California, England, to British Columbia with an intriguing mystery thriller of dark family secrets—bridging the gap from past to present. Kali seeks to unravel her unknown past. Her mom’s life is a mystery, having died of cancer, and her grandparents are deceased, as well. Her dad is not forthcoming with any information. Kali often felt her mother favored Alice, her sister. Kali wants to be a good mother and feels a strong desire to explore her past. As she is clearing out her mom, Elena’s art studio or storage, Kal discovers some postcards, from a Canadian gallery owner named Susannah. Always, “thinking of you.” Did her mom have an affair? Who is Graham? She reads this letter which has her questioning if Alice knew about the affair? The postcards have Canadian stamps, though one is sent from Taos, NM, and another from Seattle and a few from further afield—Quito, Moscow, and Durban. The later postcards come from the Susannah Gillespie Gallery. With her ten month toddler, Finn Kali impulsively flies to Vancouver to meet Susannah, (even though she has not notified her of her impending arrival), who has sent post cards to her mother, Elena for over thirty years. In addition, another impulse – she suspects her husband Doug is having an affair. Of course, now that she is here in this remote area of Canada, there is bad weather, heavy storms, killer whales, and she is fighting for her life as well as her son, Finn. Who is this woman Susannah? Is she dangerous? Does she have more family and if so where are they? What a chilling adventure! Kali travels halfway across the world looking for her mother; putting Finn in terrible danger, and herself and possibly another life, but the truth has been staring at her all the time from the crease in the wedding photo. However, she could not see it because she was too busy running away, spinning stories, and pressing them into blanks. It is easy to forget, when you are running away from something that you are always running toward something else. “Sometimes you need to run away in order to get somewhere.” A very intriguing tale, as have been reading quite a few novels about parent’s withholding information about the past, allowing their children to go to great lengths, while they are trying to protect dark secrets and ultimately cause more problems, by doing so. The Missing One offers vivid descriptions of the islands off the coast, nature, beauty, whales, orcas, and other elements of the sea, as the book switches from the present, one woman’s quest for answers and a mother’s mysterious past. Even though I was frustrated at Kali's behavior at times, the beauty of the novel, lies in the narrative— almost poetic, the vivid descriptions, the setting, the wildlife and connection to human nature. As Kali discovers her mother was a pioneering orca researcher—an activist and scientist in the 70s— the storylines intersect,nd secrets are unraveled as the tension builds. Like the whales, her mother lives in two world: breathing in one, then diving beneath. An ideal selection for book clubs and discussions, with an array of viewpoints and motives; from those trying to protect one another, by withholding the truth.
“The captive orca was trying so hard to stop her baby from hurting itself on the sides of the tank that she forgot to feed it. The instinct to protect trumped the instinct to nurture.” -- Perhaps Kali reacted as well and learns motherhood is triumphant, an extraordinary force not to be messed with.
A mix of women’s fiction, strong female friendships, relationships, suspense, thriller, family drama, animal rights, activist, and feminist—for an engrossing and emotional page-turner thriller. An ongoing main theme of parental love; a strong and powerful tale of motherhood, a parents’ love for their child, and the lengths they will go to save their them; with parallels of the orcas protecting their own as they stray--similar to human dynamics. An author to watch...look forward to more. On a side note: With similar subject matter, I am strongly reminded of one of my favorite US authors, Mary Alice Monroe.Having read many of her books, she is known for her intimate portrayals of women's lives, and an active environmentalist; she draws themes for her novels from nature and the parallels with human nature—drawing attention to various endangered species and the human connection to the natural world.