Isn’t it nice when you’re introduced to a new author, and are then pleasantly surprised by a clever, character-driven plot that has a quick pace?
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic for sending us a copy of Before He Finds Her by Michael Kardos; a novel that I thought I had figured out right from the start. This is, of course, until I found myself embroiled in enough twists and turns that I was actually grinning at my own gullibility. (Not expecting outcomes, by the way, is a great way to steal a Hoarder’s heart.)
Upon reading the jacket of Before He Finds Her, you might determine that the novel will be an entertaining cat and mouse chase. You might also be slightly worried that the story line teeters on the precipice of predictability. Would you be right?
In a word, no.
“Melanie Denison” is in hiding. She’s been in protective custody since the night her father, Ramsey Miller, murdered her mother. “Melanie” (aka: Meg Miller) has been in hiding for fifteen years in a small West Virginia town. Since she’s part of the Witness Protection Program, Melanie has never traveled, gone out with friends, or ventured far from her daily routine. Cared for by her Aunt and Uncle, Melanie lives in constant fear of her father, who was never captured after the night of the murder. Ramsey Miller is now believed to be on the hunt for his own daughter, to finish what he started.
The trouble with being on the brink of adulthood, as Melanie now finds herself, is that she wants a life. She no longer wishes to live under lock and key. She understandably feels trapped, and wants out. After discovering that she’s pregnant, she decides that she’s ready for a stable life with her boyfriend (someone she’s been seeing very quietly), and does not wish for her own child to live under a thick gauze of fear.
This leads Melanie to venture out on her own to find her father before he finds her. In doing so, she encounters people from her parents’ past, and 81-year old blogger Arthur Goodale, who has been penning his own musings about the disappearance of Meg Miller for years. Arthur is now bedridden in a hospital, and certainly does not suspect anything when a young “reporter” appears in his room to dust off the Miller case. They start to talk. He makes some suggestions for interviews. This is where the story takes off like a shot.
Ambling back and forth between present day and the younger years of Ramsey Miller, Before He Finds Her starts to etch a tangled web of odd characters and questionable relationships. The more Melanie digs, the more confused she gets, and the reader starts to question if this story is as predictable as originally anticipated. Each new encounter raises new questions, and when you couple this with a rehashing of Ramsey Miller’s past, you start to wonder which end is up.
What I liked about Before He Finds Her was the intelligence of the plot. You will not have the opportunity to take anything for granted while you’re reading it. During each slow reveal, the hearts of the characters will be exposed, which will make it possible for you to feel compassion for people you thought were inherently evil. I hate to use the worn phrase don’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s a terrific anthem for this novel.
As characters go, Meg Miller is an interesting protagonist. She muddles about the story with brave intentions and a self-awareness that at times is borderline self-deprecating. Her desire to know the truth is what cinches the plot, and her distrust of people makes you feel protective. I found her to be quite real. Her partner, so to speak, Arthur, is a wonderfully drawn character whose insatiable need to know the truth is touching. I enjoyed the conversations that these two shared, and rooted for each of them to find exactly what they were looking for.
Overall, I would simply have to say that kindness can be found in unlikely places. In turn, motives (good or bad) can propel people to make disastrous mistakes. Having said that, I need to stop here. If I keep writing, I’ll slip and will give too much away. I’ll close with the observation that Before He Finds Her is an entertaining and smart read that will have you scratching your head until the end.
And when the gig was done – the last chord played, the amps silenced – he would clutch his family tight, and knowing he’d led a fuller life than he ever could have imagined, he would welcome the earth’s own spectacular finale. (p 110)
What could that possibly mean??
I’m not telling.
4 stars for Before He Finds Her. Congrats to Michael Kardos for a suspenseful read!