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Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Missing Pieces is the sixth novel by Heather Gudenkauf and the third Gudenkauf novel that I've read.  I previously read and reviewed her debut novel, The Weight of Silence, and her third novel, One Breath Away.  Gudenkauf has another novel on the way in May called Not a Sound.  Gudenkauf consistently delivers gripping, engrossing thrillers, so I'm looking forward to Not a Sound in May.  So I read Missing Pieces, and I had opinions (lots of opinions) before I was even through the second chapter.   But I'll get to those later.

When Jack Quinlan's beloved Aunt Julia takes a fall and ends up in the hospital, Jack and his wife Sarah fly back to the small town in Iowa where Jack grew up and that Jack has endeavored to leave behind forever.  As soon as they arrive Sarah can tell that something is off with the family.  There are strange family dynamics.  There's tension between Jack's cousin Dean (Julia's son) and Jack's sister, Amy, who found Julia at the bottom of the staircase from which she fell.  But Sarah hardly knows these people who are Jack's family and with whom he's grown up because Jack and Sarah have rarely come back to visit.  Subsequently it doesn't take Sarah long to suss out that nearly everything that Jack has told her about his family and his past have been lies: from his surname, to how his parents died, to who his former high school sweetheart ended up marrying.  And Jack continues to obfuscate and equivocate and resorts to gaslighting when Sarah confronts him about the secrets (read: LIES) that he's kept in order to avoid talking about them.

Luckily Sarah is a former investigative journalist turned advice columnist.   And in short order she grooms a source and ally within the sheriff's department and uncovers Jack's mother's still unsolved murder file in which first Jack and then his father were the top suspects.  However, his father disappeared shortly after his mother's murder, never to be seen nor heard from again, and thus is presumed to have beaten his wife to death and to be dead now himself someplace.  However, it seems history is repeating itself when Julia suddenly convulses and dies in her hospital bed as the family looks on horrified; the sheriff orders an autopsy to determine cause of death; the provenance of Julia's bruises (that the doctor believes inconsistent with those likely sustained in a fall down a flight of stairs) is questioned.  Moving quickly, the sheriff opens an investigation and executes a search warrant on Julia's house.  In addition, the sheriff as well as Dean have both settled on Amy as the top suspect and most likely culprit and these conclusions are bolstered by much of the evidence.  But is Amy guilty or has evidence been planted to make it look that way?

It's true that Amy has lived a much harder life as she seems to have struggled ever since her mother's death and her father's disappearance and then descended into substance abuse and an unstable existence.  However, Dean's aggressive behavior and adamant insistence on Amy's guilt is strange--and perhaps manipulated by the real culprit.  Sarah is determined to get to the bottom of both Jack's mother's murder and Julia's murder, even if it means that her husband turns out to be a murderer.  Mysterious, creepy, anonymous emails Sarah receives through her advice column (which Sarah writes anonymously) indicate both that someone knows 'Ask Astrid's' true identity and that the murders were premeditated.  But to what end?  Why is the Quinlan family being targeted and by whom?  Or does the threat originate from within the family?

Some rants and questions I had:

Though I had an inkling of who the real murderer was very early on, Gudenkauf still kept me guessing up until the end when all was revealed.  I chalk this up to the fact that I have read many mystery thrillers, that S. J. Bolton's debut, Sacrifice, continues to make me suspicious of EVERYONE in a thriller, and I have also watched a lot of cop shows.

Jack outright dismisses Sarah's questions and refuses to answer them.  Instead he repeatedly shuts down all her attempts to talk to him about his family and what went on in the aftermath of his mother's death which forces Sarah to get information from other sources.  That is wrong.  And frustrating.  And he only has himself to blame when things go south because maybe if he had opened up to Sarah and actually talked to her, they could have pieced this whole nefarious mystery together before anyone else ended up dead, mortally injured, or in jail for a crime they didn't commit.

Question 1: How does one stay married twenty years and only now realize that your spouse is hiding something about their family?

Question(s) 2 (& 3): How is your spouse's refusal to open up / "let you in" regarding their parents' deaths/life before their deaths not a big, fat, bright red flag?  It's been two decades (two decades!) and your spouse still hasn't opened up to you about his parents, and you barely know his surviving family.  How is this not questionable, especially absent evidence of an estrangement or justification for said estrangement?

Question(s) 4 (& 5 & 6):  What does Amy mean when she refers to their childhood home as a "house of horrors"?  What the hell is going on in this family?  And what went on in this family all those years ago?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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