Alafair Burke is constantly surprising. While her books --- series and stand-alone works alike --- are firmly ensconced in that netherworld where thriller, mystery and suspense novels meet and merge, with each new release she explores one of the many different facets that all of these genres collectively embrace. This is especially true of her latest, IF YOU WERE HERE, which contains strong elements found within the mystery and thriller genres yet also explores both the upside and downside of marriage and friendships.
IF YOU WERE HERE begins when a teenage subway thief picks the wrong target. He steals the woman’s phone and is relentlessly pursued until he accidentally falls onto the tracks and into the path of an approaching train. The woman saves his life (retrieving her phone in the process) and then hurriedly leaves the scene. It is the stuff of legend, and a magazine journalist named McKenna Jordan is pursuing the story. In this age of omnipresent surveillance cameras, it is not long before McKenna is able to locate a video recording capturing a few moments of the heroic, seemingly foolhardy rescue. McKenna can scarcely believe her eyes after viewing the footage. The mysterious rescuer appears to be Susan Hauptmann, a close friend who introduced McKenna to Patrick, Susan's classmate at West Point who ultimately became her husband.
"Burke, who from her first novel has demonstrated that she is incapable of writing badly, sets her own bar and exceeds it once again with her latest effort, which transcends the already high standard that fans of the mystery and suspense genres have come to expect and demand."
The reason that McKenna is so startled by Susan’s presence on the video is that her friend vanished into thin air about 10 years ago. The police investigated but ultimately determined that Susan had simply decided to start life over again elsewhere --- adults, after all, are permitted to disappear, in the absence of foul play --- yet McKenna always believed that there was more to the disappearance than a desire to hit the reset button. When McKenna begins to dig more deeply into the matter, things begin to go very badly. Her own husband, who knew Susan even longer than she did, believes that she is imagining the resemblance and attempts to dissuade her from pursuing the matter; a major investigative story of hers is published, then thoroughly discredited; everyone she speaks with concerning the heroic rescue finds themselves in harm’s way; and that video footage suddenly no longer exists.
McKenna does not need to get hit by a train to realize that someone does not want her to be investigating Susan’s reappearance. With her career all but devastated, and her sanity hanging in the balance, she begins a desperate search for her missing friend, a search that will ultimately unearth uncomfortable truths that will challenge everything she holds dear.
Alafair Burke has stated elsewhere that IF YOU WERE HERE may be the most personal book she has written. Certainly it slices realistically and uncomfortably at times into and out of relationships, raising questions as to what should be revealed and what is better to remain hidden between people in an intimate relationship. Burke, who from her first novel has demonstrated that she is incapable of writing badly, sets her own bar and exceeds it once again with her latest effort, which transcends the already high standard that fans of the mystery and suspense genres have come to expect and demand.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 7, 2013