Reviewed by Jack Cameron Stanton
“I know you think everyone has forgotten about Nicole. But I never have.’
– Megan McDonald
Megan McDonald was kidnapped, and after two weeks of captivity she manages to escape. She staggers away from the abandoned bunker, through the rainy forest that’ll forever plague her nightmares, and when she finds a highway she’s saved by a man on a late-night drive. When he recognises, through all the blood and terror, who he’s just picked up, he says:
‘Good God. The whole state’s been looking for you . . . Where’s your friend?’ Megan looks at him, confused. ‘Nicole Cutty. The other girl who was taken.’
So begins Charlie Donlea’s second book, The Girl Who Was Taken, an unputdownable roar that keeps you guessing until the end.
Twelve months later Megan has become a media sensation and released a book about her nightmare and the convalescent period that followed (but hasn’t ended), but nobody wants to mention the second girl, Nicole Cutty, who was kidnapped on the same day – and is still missing.
While Nicole remains unfound her sister Livia Cutty trains to become a forensic pathologist, believing that when her sister’s dead body is found the autopsy should be done by someone who cares. But when she uncovers symptoms of homicide in a dead body found floating in a river, she’s pulled into a darkness far bigger than she could’ve imagined . . .
Things only get more complicated when Livia is informed that the dead body is none other than Casey, the boy Nicole was seeing right before she vanished. And once it becomes clear the apparent suicide was actually a homicide, Livia has to transgress her professional boundaries to find out the truth of what’s really going on, and that drives her, inevitably, to liaise with the one person she resents: Megan McDonald. To make matters worse, Megan’s hypnotic sessions slowly unearth memories from her captivity that she had tried to repress, and as they form together she remembers the reasons why she buried them in the first place.
And who’s this so-called Capture Club? Are their sick fascinations with missing people, their secret meetings to scrutinise recent vanishings, and staged abductions of initiates merely the games of bored, tasteless teenagers? Or is something more sinister brewing deeper beneath the surface?
Even after I had to put the book down (which, mind you, was very hard to do), it stayed in my mind, and already I was trying to figure out the puzzle that Charlie so intricately lays out in the opening pages. Masterfully, he manages the multi-stories, as the tension rises through them.
This is smart crime writing. Playing with both time and perspective, Charlie Donlea drip-feeds us clues, allowing us into the minds of pretty much all his characters, even when we don’t want to be there: we are given insights into ‘The Monster’ who has abducted and murdered his victims, and even as we grow uncomfortably familiar with being inside his mind we still don’t know who he is or what he truly wants. This is just an isolated example of what happens throughout the book: Donlea hides identities, hints at others, and blurs them together – keeping you guessing until the dying pages what the hell is going on.
While The Girl Who Was Taken carries on the legacy of incredible new thriller writers such as Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, and the super recent, earth-shattering, and so far unidentified JP Delaney, there’s something refreshing in Donlea’s vision of a crime novel. In a way, there are three mysteries occurring simultaneously, weaving through both space and time. His writing style isn’t crowded by metaphor or embellishment: it has a cutthroat economy that matches the juggernauts of the crime world.
Charlie Donlea lives in Chicago with his wife and two young children. His first novel, Summit Lake, was a #1 Audible bestseller. The Girl Who Was Taken is his second novel, and he is under contract for two more thrillers due in 2018 and 2019.