Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Book Review: The Missing Years

By Jami Deise

The haunted house story is one of the oldest genres of fiction there is – think Rebecca; The Turn of the Screw – and yet, with the latest domestic thriller craze showing no signs of stopping, it’s just as popular as ever. Lexie Elliott has followed up her bestselling debut, The French Girl (reviewed here) with The Missing Years, a haunted house story about a man who may or may not be actually dead.

Ailsa Calder’s father has been missing since she was seven – a diamond salesman who disappeared with his company’s diamonds. With her artist mother’s recent death, Ailsa, now in her twenties, has inherited half of a Scottish house known as the Manse. Since the other half belongs to her missing father, she can’t sell it unless she proves he is dead. When she moves into the house with her younger half-sister, Carrie, immediately Ailsa begins to feel that something isn’t right. Is the Manse haunted, or is one of the neighbors in the incestuous small town trying to drive Ailsa away?

Elliott’s creation of atmosphere is the most outstanding feature of her sophomore offering. The Manse is nestled in the Scottish Highlands, and Jacobite history and strong accents are as important to the story as the house’s mysteriously banging doors. The town boosts the same dynamic of clique-y twenty-something friends that The French Girl did, only in this case Ailsa is an outsider with no personal feeling about whom to believe. Still, she is quick to trust the words of one of the friends while doubting others. And since she barely knows her half-sister, Carrie is also not above suspicion. (I wanted to know why only Ailsa was left her mom’s half of the house… surely her other child would have inherited half of everything… or her second husband…) One character, Fiona, has a neurological condition called dyschronometria, and she insists that the Manse is a place where time folds onto itself. This explanation for the bizarre goings-on was unique, and I wished the writer had spent more time developing it.

While I enjoyed The Missing Years, I’ve read a number of haunted house stories lately that feature characters with secret pasts, and they’re all starting to blur together in my mind. And the ending didn’t work for me – the villain’s motivations could have been more easily reached. Still, the Scottish setting might attract Outlander fans who miss being told to “dinnae fash.” There’s even a Jamie!

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Dianna said...

I like haunted house stories, but I can see how the details of similar stories can run together.

asian feels said...

Thanks for your overview, it's worth reading it