Fans of Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid series may be disappointed for a half-second to learn that her new novel, LONG GONE, is a stand-alone work. But any disappointment should evaporate following the reading of the first few pages of this stunning mystery, which delivers the goods on every page.
LONG GONE has it all: Interesting characterization. Primary and secondary mysteries that are ever so slowly linked together. A strong narrative that doesn't so much propel as leads. And, perhaps most importantly of all, a first-rate plot that keeps the pages turning and readers guessing long into the night.
Burke takes a couple of familiar concepts and puts a new and interesting spin on them, using her considerable writing chops to move the plot-driven narrative right along, changing things from dark to pitch-black in mood before the story's ultimate climax.
Alice Humphrey is the book's primary protagonist, the daughter of a world-renowned film director and the actress who starred in his best-known movie. Alice has struggled all of her life to break out of her famous parents' shadow, a goal made more difficult by the fact that she herself was a child actress, thrust into fame on a much-beloved television show some years ago. Now in her 30s and determined to make it --- whatever "it" might be --- on her own in her native New York, Alice is swept off of her feet when she meets the enigmatic Drew Campbell at an art exhibition. He recruits her to manage a new art gallery that will initially serve as the venue for an exhibition of the work of a reclusive and somewhat difficult photographer.
Opening night goes well, but the exhibition is all too soon marred by a demonstration, due to the fact that at least one of the photographs appears to use an underage model in a sexual situation. Things go from difficult to horrific, however, when Drew is found murdered in the gallery, and Alice inexplicably finds herself to be the primary suspect in his death. Evidence indicates that Alice is not only guilty of murder, but was engaged in a fraud, the aim of which appears to be the exploitation of children. Even worse, it appears that the high-profile disappearance of a high school student might be linked to the gallery, when one of the girl's fingerprints is discovered in the space during the investigation into Drew's murder.
Alice soon finds herself on the run, trying to prove her innocence even as it becomes clear that the police have all but closed the case, convinced that she is indeed the killer. Her sole asset is Hank Beckman, an FBI agent who is pursuing an apparently unrelated --- and career-threatening --- vendetta of his own, which suddenly dovetails into the murder investigation and leads him to conclude, independent of the police, that the wrong person is being targeted as a suspect.
The answers slowly and tantalizingly unfold as secrets of the past, unknown but to a very few, are revealed one by one, so that everything has changed by the end of the book. Burke takes a couple of familiar concepts and puts a new and interesting spin on them, using her considerable writing chops to move the plot-driven narrative right along, changing things from dark to pitch-black in mood before the story's ultimate climax. LONG GONE will provide newcomers with the perfect place to become acquainted with Burke and a ready excuse to bring themselves up to date with her respective series, while her ever-growing readership base will encounter yet another reason why she remains at or near the top of their must-read lists.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 4, 2011