by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Still Missing / 978-0-312-59567-8
Annie O'Sullivan is trying to put her life back together since the year of hell she spent captive in the mountains in the hands of a controlling psychopath, but every day she feels closer to the edge, completely ready to snap from the fear, grief, guilt, and horror that she lives with. Finally, she's decided that she needs help and is seeking professional counseling in order to tell her story for the first time. And yet, the story she is telling may not be completely finished: the case is far from closed, and the police are beginning to believe that she may still be in danger...
I cannot praise this book enough - debut author Stevens skillfully weaves a story of utter horror as we follow Annie through her year of captivity, and through the days that follow as she tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Annie is the perfect protagonist as the reader will almost certainly identify instantly with her - having seen the occasional episode of "CSI" and "Law & Order", she intellectually knows all the things an abducted woman "should" do, and yet faced with the impossibility of her situation, she finds that all she really *can* do is just hold on and survive. Rarely have I seen a female protagonist characterized so fully and completely as a strong, vulnerable, realistic woman caught in an utterly impossible situation, and Stevens should be congratulated for so thoroughly and carefully characterizing Annie to the point where every pain inflicted on her is felt acutely by the reader.
If this were just a story of mentally reliving a year of captivity whilst trying to pick up the pieces back home, it would still be powerful and compelling enough to deserve a read, but in the second half, Stevens ratchets up the pace with a hair-raising investigation that keeps the reader constantly on the edge of their seat as they wonder, with Annie, whether her captivity was just the most monumental bad luck, or if she was chosen for a reason...and if she might still be in danger. As Annie, and the reader, struggle to sort out PTSD-induced paranoia from the emerging facts, Stevens carefully doles out more and more delightful tension and anticipation, up to the final, absolutely soul-searing conclusion.
I cannot think of anything to criticize about this novel. Annie's mental state after her captivity is realistic, and treated with intelligence, sympathy, and dignity. Her personality contains realistic and endearing flaws, and Stevens shows a shrewd understanding in creating sympathetic characters who can be mistaken, incorrect, or outright wrong without invalidating their inherent value as people. The supporting characters - the best friend, the boyfriend, the mother, the investigator, and even the abductor - are all beautifully and carefully fleshed out, and it is a true delight to read a novel entirely populated with well-crafted, three-dimensional characters.
In the end, all you really need to know is that I finished this 340-page novel in record time, struggled to put it down when "real life" required that I do so, absolutely loved every page from start to finish, and am already eyeing it with thoughts towards reading it again when I go on vacation this summer. I won't say this book didn't give me nightmares, but I will say it was completely worth it.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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