review: The Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves

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Thank you to NetGalley and Bantam for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped, given the intriguing back cover blurb, this was still an interesting mystery.

The Girls She Left Behind is the first (I believe) in a series of novels about detective Lizzie Snow, a woman on a mission to find her missing niece, stuck out in the wilds of Bearkill, Maine, with a seductive ex-lover, townspeople with secrets of their own, and a deep, rivering grief for her murdered sister.

Graves sets up the series well, with a good cast of characters – including Lizzie’s newfound dog rescue, Rascal, a huge slobbering lump with lots of love to give.

However, the issue comes when the book switches perspectives – which it does a lot – with the first person perspective taken by a woman with a dark secret, and the third person all Lizzie’s. Since Lizzie IS supposed to be the main character, I found the transitions could be jarring at times. This has worked for me in other novels, so I believe it just needs a very deft hand and very distinctive voices. I think it was also confusing for me due to the often odd dialogue pacing (a character says something, new paragraph, the character is still talking – I thought a few times that the other person had spoken and then had to back-track to figure out who was saying what). So between that and the character perspectives changing chapter by chapter, I was thrown out of the story more than once.

I won’t discuss the plot because that would ruin the surprises – none THAT shocking to me, but they form the “raison d’etre” for the novel, so wouldn’t want to spoil. My biggest bone of contention is the potential in the plot. The moral dilemma at the heart of everything is fascinating, raw and terrifying. I found myself asking: what would I do? And I didn’t like the possible answers. Graves could have done so much more with this, and I hope she does in later works, because she definitely has talent.

All in all, a promising mystery. It would be improved by careful editing to weed out the confusing passages and dialogue changes, as well as a bigger focus on what I think is the biggest shocker of the tale.


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