By Ekta R. Garg
February 3, 2016
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
A woman travels with her husband to his hometown when they receive word that his aunt has endured a terrible fall. The husband has always seemed reluctant to go home, but his close relationship to his aunt demands it. What seems like an accident on the surface, however, turns into a murder charge and the woman must draw on her professional resources and her own intuition to discover the truth. Author Heather Gudenkauf tries to trip up readers in this mystery that will end up exasperating them more than anything else in the flaccid novel Missing Pieces.
When Sarah and her husband, Jack, find out that Jack’s aunt has fallen down the stairs, they prepare to go to Jack’s hometown of Penny Gate, Iowa. Despite the heartbreaking circumstances taking them back to Iowa, Sarah feels like her curiosity about Jack’s past will finally get satisfied. All she knows is that Jack’s parents died when he was a teenager in a car accident and that his aunt and uncle raised him and his sister. Beyond that Jack has always displayed the utmost of reticence in discussing his life. Sarah wants to know more about the town that shaped her husband’s life.
From the moment they arrive in Penny Gate, however, Sarah begins to uncover information that disturbs her. Jack’s parents didn’t die in a car accident; his mother died in a brutal assault, and his father fled town under the suspicion of murder. With equally suspicious circumstances surrounding Jack’s aunt’s fall, the details of Jack’s parents begin circulating once again—including the fact that at one time Jack himself had been arrested for the crime.
Suddenly Sarah begins looking at her husband differently. Could he have possibly killed his mother? Did he have anything to do with his aunt’s mysterious accident now? Nothing makes any sense anymore, and Sarah begins to dig into the investigation done at the time of Jack’s mother’s death. When his aunt also dies, it becomes imperative for Sarah to discover the truth before the killer strikes again.
Author Heather Gudenkauf tries in vain to lay the groundwork for a compelling novel. Almost from the start readers will feel frustrated by Jack’s annoyance at all things having to do with Penny Gate. Despite a stated former profession as an investigative reporter, main character Sarah doesn’t connect the dots as fast as a real-life reporter might.
When Sarah confronts Jack with the information she uncovers, Jack’s ambiguity might make sense…if he responded with ambiguity only once or twice. Sarah goes to Jack several times with almost the same accusations every time. Jack has the same response almost every time, and every time Sarah comes away from their confrontation with the affirmation that she can’t trust Jack and she needs to leave Penny Gate. The layers of information she uncovers begin to lap onto themselves in the background; at the forefront of the book is Sarah’s sense of betrayal. Her betrayal might be justified, but making that betrayal a centerpiece of the book is not.
The mystery, of course, comes in the question of who killed Jack’s mother and, eventually, his aunt. The climax limps through tired clichés, including a lengthy soliloquy by the antagonist explaining every single motivation and method for carrying out the crimes. Readers will roll their eyes at the final reveal, if they haven’t already figured out the entire story by the time that reveal unfolds on center stage.
Because of its underdeveloped characters, its frustrating plot devices, and its dedication to fulfilling every single trope in the mystery genre, I recommend readers Bypass Missing Pieces.
(I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)