Title: Before She Disappeared
Author: Lisa Gardner
Publication date: January 21st 2021
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
Number of pages: 400
Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman with more regrets than belongings who spends her life doing what no one else will: searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for.
When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.
A new case brings Frankie to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier.
Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own. And she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want answered.
But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing will be her …
Sometimes you pick a book and you meet the most fascinating characters. This is what happened for me with Before She Disappeared.
This novel was not my first by Lisa Gardner so I was already aware of her outstanding characterization skills and her intense plots. By the way, if you haven’t checked the D.D. Warren series yet, I urge you to give it a try.
Back to Before She Disappeared…
What happens when people disappear? There might be some noise when an investigation starts, if you are lucky, but without strong leads, files only pile up and bury the police force as well as families’ hopes of a happy ending. The number of missing person cases is horrendous. You’d think it wouldn’t be so easy to vanish from the surface of the earth in our day and age, with phones, cameras, credit cards… and yet.
And yet teenager Angelique Badeau disappeared into thin air eleven months ago in Mattapan, an overcrowded part of Boston. No why, no how, nothing. The police haven’t been lazy, they simply haven’t been lucky either.
Enters Frankie Elkin. No big music and big boots. No special powers. She describes herself as an ordinary middle-aged woman, white, having replaced an addiction by another, great bartender. Frankie is also very good at finding missing people. It is not her job, it is more like a calling. The one thing she does right. The chase that keeps her sane.
Frankie is an exceptional character. I picked a couple of quotes that will give you a taste of why I am devoting most of my review to her.
“Which would you like first: caffeine or sarcasm?”
Because no one can be honest all of the time. Not even me.
Witty, resourceful Frankie carries the weight of her world on her shoulders, but firmly believes she can help lessen the burden solidly weighing on the family of missing people. Reckless, she is however no fool and understands the risks. She carries on from one city to another, hoping to make a difference.
There is something mesmerizing in Frankie, for her weaknesses are the fuel spurring her to get answers for others. I kept wondering. Was she looking for missing persons to avoid finding herself? She definitely is trying to fill a void, left by a terrible tragedy and her addiction to alcohol, but there is more to her than just another tormented soul.
I must admit that often, I find myself struggling to warm up to characters dealing with alcohol issues. I never get the right details, the right personality to get the need to understand. Lisa Gardner’s protagonist is different, and the way the author has integrated her past and demons to the narration is real, awful, and perfectly written so you can actually emphasize and feel close to Frankie.
What Frankie lacks in material possessions and diplomas; she makes up in people skills. Being an ordinary civilian has its advantages. People talk more easily. Most of the time. But Mattapan is a peculiar place where Frankie stands out. She is the minority in a neighbourhood of color. She receives quite a freezing welcome, but she needs more to give up. Again, I could have been made uncomfortable by the talks of race or community, but Lisa Gardner did her homework and knows how to express the complex notions of differences and racism. There are good and bad people of all colors, and Mattapan is no exception. Actually, it hides some amazing food places, and good people trying to play their part to make the place a little safer. The whole place is a character in itself.
Against all odds, Frankie finds allies, including a no-nonsense boss/landlord, a group of adorable ladies, a wonderful cook, and the reassuring safe net of AA meetings and people who understand her battles. The cast of characters is worthy of a great thriller movie. They carry the plot with such force that I couldn’t help getting tangled up in Angelique’s disappearance. I say tangled up because I felt I was part of the story, the teeny tiny mouse (not eaten by Piper, read the book to get this reference!) who sees the action unfold and holds her breath throughout.
The plot itself is intricate, beautifully sad, and totally outraging. Friendships, trust, family, money, you get the usual suspects, the things we are so familiar with it hurts to see how much power they hold over us. Frankie dances a dangerous dance walking the streets of Mattapan, asking questions, dredging up answers from muddy waters. There is desperation in Frankie’s mission as much as in the search of missing loved ones. If the setting seems ominous and unwelcoming at first, you get transported and end up almost feeling like you belong. Almost. Because Frankie can’t belong, and as the reader following her, neither can we. Still, it felt so good to immerse myself in such a compelling and engaging novel, letting the darkness envelop me to better understand the puzzle I was working on.
One answer after the other, I felt we were getting one step closer, then two steps further any kind of conclusions. The game was dangerous and exhilarating and the combined force of Frankie and her allies kept me hoping for the best and begging for more.
I don’t feel I can do Before She Disappeared justice, but I hope my review will convince you to meet Frankie and start looking for Angelique. Lisa Gardner outdid herself with this superb piece of fiction that feels real enough to leave a lasting impact on you.
Thank you to Rachel for inviting me to be part of this fantastic book tour and for providing me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.