The nice thing about having an A-List of authors is that there's always room for one more. The publication of MISSING PERSONS demonstrates that Stephen White deserves to be on that coveted list.
White is simply incredible. His novels are fabulous and have been getting incrementally better with each new release. Accordingly, if you're one of the lucky ones familiar with White's work, you're expecting something really, really good with MISSING PERSONS. The Man delivers.
The novel begins with psychologist Alan Gregory and his professional partner, the occasionally grating Diane Estevez, discovering the dead body of Hannah Grant, their professional colleague and personal friend. While county investigators are attempting to determine the cause and circumstances of death, a 14-year-old girl seemingly vanishes from her home on Christmas night. Gregory finds himself involved in both matters, having had a counseling session with the girl's parents some years prior to her disappearance.
In lesser hands, Gregory would be out knocking down doors, kicking butt and taking names. White, however, makes his creation behave…well...like a psychologist. Gregory listens a lot, asks some questions, observes, and wrestles with ethical questions, such as how much he can reveal to his policeman buddy Sam Purdy. There are no explosions or karate to move things along --- just White, and his fabulous talent for credible, readable dialogue and narrative, with a quirky character or two thrown in for good measure.
Then, over one-third of the way through MISSING PERSONS, White throws a curve ball that leaves the reader with mouth and eyes agape, wondering what is going on. And he keeps doing it throughout the novel, not only crafting a bewildering and plausible mystery but also dovetailing it neatly into the real world.
And that's not all. In the final quarter of the book, White introduces a secondary character known as Canada. The man is actually present for only one scene but is as interesting as anyone in the novel. If White ever wants to take a break from Alan Gregory, he could base an entire novel --- indeed, an entire series --- on Canada. Additionally, of the three characters who are the nexus for most of what happens in MISSING PERSONS, two make appearances for a brief moment and one never makes an appearance at all! And Gregory? He doesn't shape so much as relate what has taken place, yet he is able to affect what happens after the narrative is completed. This is a difficult maneuver to pull off, but White does so while making it look easy.
As improbable as it may seem, White appears to be documenting Colorado in general and Boulder in particular at the beginning of the 21st century in the same manner and with the same acumen as Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler did with southern California and Los Angeles in the middle third of the 20th century. Stephen White is a major talent who, if there is any justice, will obtain the major recognition he deserves.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 3, 2005