Gorgeous writing, extremely suspenseful. The Alaskan wilderness and one woman's drive to find answers gives this narrative its propulsive drive.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
It's 1941. Elisabeth Pfautz is living at home in Tanacross, a barely-there outpost of rural Alaska with her husband, John, and their young daughter, Margaret. They've been in Alaska for a while now, following John's teaching posts wherever they lead, and Elisabeth is just along for the ride with an unhappy marriage, a gloomy home life, and the ghosts of the unsolved secrets of her past.
Elisabeth's twin sister, Jacqueline, disappeared when she was a child.
I'll be right back, don't worry.
Jacqueline never came back, and after decades of searches in the Pennsylvania town where it happened, the case has gone cold.
In Tanacross, Elisabeth meets a stranger and he needs a place to stay for the night. She offers him their spare room despite her reservations, as her home is the unofficial B&B when Tanacross gets white guests.
The stranger, Alfred, is odd. He's a German during a time when to be German is to be the enemy, and frankly, he's creepy. By the next morning, Alfred's murdered Elisabeth's neighbor in an act of (seemingly) cold blood. He's immediately whisked to Fairbanks and interred in the prison.
But Elisabeth begins to receive letters from the murderer in jail. Alfred claims to know what happened to Jacqueline, and he can prove it. To Elisabeth, this permanent hole in her life sucks her into Alfred's narrative, and Elisabeth finds herself responding to his letters and following his bread crumb trail.
What happened to Jacqueline?
First off, let me say that this is some of the most gorgeous and suspenseful writing that I have read in a literary suspense novel in quite some time. For the writing quality alone, this novel is worth the read. Fleischmann can weave his words together with a flourish.
In fact, at times I forgot that I was reading a mystery/thriller, and completely engrossed myself in the literary suspense. This is less a "whodunit" and more of a character study of Elisabeth and Alfred, complete with beautiful described scenes and flashbacks.
However, I will say that I found the ending to be not quite...what I expected. Considering the near-flawless writing and the fantastic characterization of Elisabeth, I was a bit surprised by the direction taken at the end. Again, the "whodunit" was not the driving force for my reading experience, but I still found the reveal(s) to be a weaker ending. Why did we make that final choice?
Overall—what a read. I hope others enjoy this interesting tale set in one of America's most memorable landscapes, as it is such an impressive debut. I'm incredibly interested to see what Fleischmann writes next.
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.