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What Happened to Nina?


What Happened to Nina?

Dervla McTiernan, the internationally bestselling author of THE MURDER RULE, returns with her tensest, most absorbing work of suspense yet with WHAT HAPPENED TO NINA?

Nina Fraser. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know her name, her face and even the fact that she has gone missing. If you’re a savvy armchair detective watching her real-life disappearance investigation unfold, you also may know that she has been with her boyfriend since they were 16, even when Simon Jordan went away to school, putting their love-filled relationship through the ringer of long-distance romance. You may recall the age-old advice, It’s always the boyfriend, and you may even wonder if rich, handsome Simon is just too good to be true.

But then, as you watch the police department’s press release and observe Nina’s frazzled, stained-shirt-wearing parents take the podium, you may notice Nina’s mother Leanne’s robotic tone and distracted nature. “She’s focused on her daughter,” you may think…at least until a comment on a YouTube video suggests otherwise. Because that’s the way true crime unfolds when blasted across the public sphere through articles, news reports, YouTube videos, reactionary TikToks, etc. But in wondering about all of this, you’ve ignored the only question that matters: What happened to Nina?

"This is a sharply written, deeply compassionate and resoundingly meditative take on the suspense genre. McTiernan is a formidable writer, able to venture deep into her characters’ psyches while still propelling the investigation forward..."

McTiernan makes clear Nina’s fate right from the first chapter. But by the time her parents have alerted the authorities about her disappearance, evidence has been washed away, alibis have been formed and agreed upon, and Nina’s family and the police are no closer to finding the beloved twenty-something, even as her parents begin the process of anticipatory grief. What is known is this: After going away with Simon to his family’s estate in Stowe, Vermont, only 40 minutes from the home she shared with her parents, Nina disappeared.

Simon appeared back in their hometown a few days later, telling anyone who would listen that Nina dumped him because of a budding relationship with a new flame. His parents, the rich and ritzy businessman Rory and his trophy wife, Jamie, maintain their reputation and image above all…a fact never more visibly evidenced than by Jamie’s clothing budget, which is unlimited.

The Jordans are the type of couple who waltz at galas among politicians and businessmen one night, attend a charity auction (but only the kind that will get them public credit) another night, and still manage to keep their bodies fit and chiseled, their bank accounts fat, and their perfect, privileged son out of any and all trouble. So despite their belief that Simon is innocent, they’re not so innocent-minded as to let the media take over. Always one step ahead, Rory hires a PR firm that specializes in reputation rehabilitation: the celebrity heartthrob with the DUI, the political couple who no longer share a bed, and, of course, Simon, who is starting to look a whole lot like a girlfriend-killer.

With the investigation for Nina gaining momentum, two distinct events thrust both families into the spotlight. Leanne, whose appearance at the press conference is less than galvanizing, lets the public know exactly who she and her husband, Andy, think killed their daughter. And in a show of near-perfect tactical manipulation, she begs for the Jordans to allow a search party to check the mountains surrounding their home, hoping that Nina, feeling tender after the breakup, took to the woods and suffered an accident. Gracious as ever, the Jordans are happy to accept, even going so far as to hire a professional chef to serve provisions to the searchers. But Rory and Jamie know their son, they know his tells, and they know what the searchers are likely to find. Desperate to protect his only child, Rory takes to the estate himself, taking first whack at the trails around their home and finding…well, you know what he finds.

From this moment on, both families reach a point of no turning back. With the Frasers dedicating an entire movement --- #WhatHappenedtoNina --- to finding their daughter, the Jordans start to play dirty, enlisting bot farms to muddy the waters of public opinion not only by suggesting alternate theories, but by coming for the Frasers themselves. Instantly a mourning mother is cast as a cold woman who doesn’t even miss her daughter. Andy is put under the microscope for marrying Leanne when she had a young daughter. Who was he interested in really? Having already revealed Nina’s fate, McTiernan sets her thriller after the main event, after the murder and blood, and when the real drama starts: in the court of public opinion and on the battlefields of the internet.

Alternating between the Frasers, the Jordans and Matthew Wright, the detective who is heading the investigation into Nina’s disappearance, McTiernan upends the traditional suspense plot and focuses not on the who, but on the why and the how. Her protagonist is not the titular Nina, but rather the parents of the only two people involved in her disappearance, and the lengths to which they will go to protect their children…even when their children aren’t who they thought they were.

This is a sharply written, deeply compassionate and resoundingly meditative take on the suspense genre. McTiernan is a formidable writer, able to venture deep into her characters’ psyches while still propelling the investigation forward and laying out a tightly written, believable series of events that reveal difficult truths about our obsession with true crime. Perfect for readers of LISTEN FOR THE LIE, THE CLUB, and writers like Shari Lapena and B. A. Paris, WHAT HAPPENED TO NINA? is a brilliant, haunting addition to the suspense genre that really stands out for its perspective shift and clear-eyed gaze…not only at Nina’s (possible) killer, but also at ourselves.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 29, 2024

What Happened to Nina?
by Dervla McTiernan