September 30, 2019
After Her by Joyce Maynard
2013 William Morrow
Finished on September 26, 2019
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
The New York Times bestselling author of Labor Day and The Good Daughters returns with a warm and haunting novel of sisterhood, adolescence, sacrifice, and suspense
It's the summer of 1979, and a dry, hot, northern California school vacation stretches ahead for Rachel and her younger sister Patty-the daughters of a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome and chronically unfaithful detective father who loves to make women happy, and the mother whose heart he broke.
Left to their own devices, the inseparable sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the life of the mysterious neighbor who moves in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that rises up behind their house.
When young women start showing up dead on the mountain, the girls' father is charged with finding the man responsible, known as The Sunset Strangler. Seeing her father's life slowly unravel when he fails to stop the murders, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet: setting herself up as bait to catch the killer, with consequences that will destroy her father's career and alter the lives of everyone she loves.
It is not until thirty years later that Rachel, who has never given up hope of vindicating her father, finally smokes out the killer, bringing her back to the territory of her childhood, and uncovering a long-buried family secret.
As with her novel Labor Day, Maynard's newest work is part thriller, part love story. Loosely inspired by the Trailside Killer case that terrorized Marin County in the late seventies, her tale delves deep into the alternately thrilling and terrifying landscape of a young girl's first explorations of adult sexuality and the loss of innocence, the bond between sisters - and into a daughter's tender but damaged relationship with her father, and what it is to finally trust a man.
I've had an ARC of this book on my shelf for six years and decided to add it to my stack of books for our road trip since I've know any book by Joyce Maynard is sure to be a winner. As with her previous novels (reviewed here), I was immediately drawn into the story, the opening chapters reading like a memoir, which is one of my favorite genres. As I read, I began to wonder if this story was loosely based on fact (the publisher's blurb on the ARC is not as detailed as that on the hardcover edition posted above) and learned in the book's acknowledgments that certain details were indeed based on a true story.
I enjoyed the mystery aspect of this coming-of-age novel, but felt that the ending fell short, with somewhat unrealistic dialogue between the main character and the killer. With that said, it's still a solid read, and one which can be read in just a few short days. I, however, took much longer as I was preoccupied with my daughter's wedding, as well as a two-month long road trip.