Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey (2014)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

A Murder Mystery for the Ages

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received an ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Elizabeth is missing.

Caught in the grip of dementia, Maud Horsham has trouble remembering even the simplest of things: When she last ate. Why there’s an annoying white mitten covering one hand. How she came to be in a certain room, and what for. The name of this strange, freckled blond woman standing next to her. Who she is, or used to be.

Yet one thought continues to gnaw at her, to taunt Maud from the scraps of paper stuffed into her purse, filling her pockets, and wedged between her couch cushions: her best friend Elizabeth is missing. Elizabeth is in danger. She must find Elizabeth.

But no one will listen to a dotty old lady. (Maud’s words, not mine.) Not her daughter Helen, or her granddaughter Katy (though Katy is much kinder in her humoring of Maud than Helen). Not her carer Carla, who is nonetheless quick to scare Maud with tales of the victimized elderly. Not the police she visits frequently at the station, nor Elizabeth’s son Peter – who is most likely the one behind her disappearance, the miserly boy.

In Maud’s eighty-odd years, Elizabeth isn’t the first loved one to vanish with hardly a trace. When she was just fifteen, her older sister Susan – Sukey to her friends – went missing. The year was 1946, and the police chalked her disappearance up to a “hasty war marriage” – marriages committed to in the heat of the moment supposedly led to droves of missing persons reports as women fled husbands, newly returned from WWII, they found they hardly knew. (“WOMEN: CONTACT YOUR HUSBANDS” screamed one newspaper headline.) Husband Frank, who was already under investigation for coupon fraud, became the Palmers’ primary suspect; secretly Maud also wondered whether their lodger Douglas was to blame. Maud’s mother died not knowing what became of her daughter.

(More below the fold…)