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by Jennifer McMahon
William Morrow, January 2013
422 pages
ISBN: 006212255X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Normally, when I see a book that is over 400 pages long, I assume it will be poorly edited and filled with extraneous words. I was proven wrong with McMahon's, "The One I Left Behind." The complex story and deep characterization take the full 422 pages to develop. At the start of the book we meet Reggie, the 13-year old daughter of a serial killer's victim, then jump to her present life as a world-famous architect, and throughout the book watch the past and present converge. In the summer of '85, Reggie and her friends Tara and Charlie are captivated by the serial killer Neptune, who amputates his victims' right hands, keeps them alive for four days, feeds them a final dinner of lobster, and then strangles them and leaves their bodies in public places. The teens come of age during this summer of death, and the killings color their relationship and their move into their futures. They are connected to the killings in different ways: Tara is obsessed, Reggie's mother is a victim, and Charlie's father is the policeman charged with investigating the Neptune cases.

The book moves between that pivotal summer and the present, when Neptune strikes again after more than twenty years. Reggie, who had left town for boarding school after Vera's (her mother's) hand had been left on the steps of the police department but her body had not been found, has become a world-famous architect in the intervening years. She struggles with personal relationships and has not returned to town to see the adults who took care of her after her mother's disappearance: Vera's friend, George, and her aunt, Lorraine. The return of Neptune is paralleled by Reggie's return to town, and she reopens the amateur investigation into Neptune's identity that she, Tara, and Charlie had started 25 years ago.

The tension in the book ratchets up as the connection between the alternating 1985 and 2010 chapters becomes clearer and Reggie gets closer to identifying Neptune. The last few chapters of the book bring Reggie face-to-face with the killer. The book does not disappoint as a thriller, but it is really the characterization that sets McMahon's book apart. The three teens, and Reggie in particular, are fully developed. We understand their actions, their motivations, and how they became the adults they did. The adults (Vera, Lorraine, and George in particular) are equally well developed, allowing us to have sympathy for them even as they fail in providing Reggie with the nurture and support she needs.

This was an excellent book that kept my attention from start to finish and even intruded on time I really needed to be spending in other ways than reading. I was always unhappy to have to put it down and always able to jump right back into the story when I returned to the book. McMahon does not write a series, but she has written a number of other thrillers. I look forward to reading those.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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