Book Review: “Before She Disappeared” by Lisa Gardner

Frankie Elkin is an alcoholic, and she’s on a mission: She finds missing girls that everyone else has stopped looking for. Don’t ask her why–it’s a motive that isn’t clear to even her. But she is driven.

She started her quest long ago, leaving her home in California and her friend, Paul, the man who twice steered her to sobriety. She travels with all her worldly goods in a suitcase, staying somewhere only long enough to solve the mystery of a disappearance before she moves to the next. So far she’s helped recover fourteen victims: all dead.

This time she desperately needs to find one alive.

Frankie’s latest mission finds her in Mattapan, a Hatian neighborhood in Boston. She’s looking for Angelique Badeau, a young survivor of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, who left school one day and simply disappeared. It’s been months since her disappearance, the police have made little progress, and if they’re still looking it’s certainly not a top priority.

Before she can get started, Frankie needs a job and a place to stay. She finds a bar in Mattapan, and convinces it’s owner, Stoney, to take her on as a bar tender in exchange for a tiny room over the bar, currently inhabited by a cat who clearly doesn’t want a roommate.

Frankie–a middle-aged White woman–sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb in Mattapan, a neighborhood of Black and Brown, of poverty and drugs, of street gangs and survivors. The locals consider her a nosy do-gooder, the cops suspect she’s in it for money or fame. Even the family resists at first.

But Angelique’s mother and brother, Emmanuel, are desperate.

Frankie is used to the hostility, ignores the stares and accusations. She is what she is and makes no apologies. She keeps digging, asking questions the police hadn’t thought to ask. Emmanuel shows up one morning: he has discovered a coded message online–from Angelique: “Help us.” But who is “us”?

When a second missing girl, Livia Samdi, is connected to Angelique, things take an ugly turn. Frankie is shot at. She discovers a wad of counterfeit money hidden inside a lamp at Angelique’s home. A creepy guy hangs outside her apartment late into the night.

Then a body turns up in the local park. The situation turns desperate, and Frankie realizes the local rec center is more than just a place for kids to play. Angelique is sighted, Emmanuel abducted. Can Frankie and the police find them in time?

I’d give “Before She Disappeared” a hearty five stars. Even if you aren’t a fan of suspense I think you’ll love Frankie Elkin.

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