Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Book Review: The Return of Ellie Black

By Jami Denison

“Why did no one ever tell her that the most dangerous thing in the world isn’t natural disasters or wars or weapons? It is unremarkable men with beautiful smiles and even bigger promises.”

Most missing girls stories end when the girl (or her body) is found and her attacker is captured. But in The Return of Ellie Black, prolific author Emiko Jean’s first thriller, the book begins when Ellie is found. But the mystery, instead of being solved, becomes even deeper. 

It’s been two years since teenaged Ellie disappeared, and Detective Chelsey Calhoun is overjoyed when Ellie reappears from the woods in Washington state. But her elation soon turns to frustration—Ellie doesn’t want to talk about what happened or help track down her abductor. What is Ellie hiding, and why? Chelsey, the daughter of a police captain, whose sister was killed in a murder-suicide when she was a teenager, can’t stop worrying about the other girls that Ellie’s captor could hurt. But with no cooperation from her police colleagues and stymied by Ellie’s stalling, Chelsey flails, putting her own marriage in danger. And then Ellie disappears again, and everything Chelsey thought she knew turns out to be wrong.

The Return of Ellie Black starts like a police procedural, but it unfolds in surprising, and sometimes completely unpredictable ways. While Chelsey, with her cliched backstory, is a pretty stereotypical character, Ellie is a completely original creation. The point-of-view is mostly Chelsey and Ellie’s, although sometimes Jean slips into omniscient narration. Several chapters in Ellie’s point-of-view are told in first person, and Ellie directly addresses the reader: “Here is a tip for all the girls out there: Never let an abductor take you to a second location.” She’s sharp, achingly regretful of her teenage mistakes, and sympathetic. Her description of her initial abduction and the techniques her captor uses to make her compliant almost require a trigger warning. The scenes describing her life in the compound where he keeps her are gritty, heartbreaking, and terrifying. Ellie is also an unreliable narrator, which makes the twists in the last third of the book completely unforeseeable. 

Jean has garnered some incredible reviews for this book that specifically cite the twists—and there are many!—of its ending. Personally, I thought Jean worked too hard to tie every plot element together. Rather than being impressed with her thoroughness, I felt disbelief at all of the connections. And although her reviews credit Jean with a feminist social commentary, I felt there was an element of women being blamed for turning men into psychopaths.

Despite my personal issues with the ending, The Return of Ellie Black is a refreshing entry in the police procedural genre. Kudos to author Emiko Jean for writing outside her typical genre. Her men may be unremarkable, but her women are a force to be reckoned with. 

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

Listen to this book on Speechify!

No comments: