“The One I Left Behind” by Jennifer McMahon, c.2013, William Morrow, $14.99/$16.99 Canada, 423 pages
Once upon a time, your parents diapered your behind.
They didn’t mind, though, because it was part of being a parent. They fed you, cleaned up after you and put clothes on your little body, toys in your bedroom and lessons in your head. They made meals, curfews and sacrifices.
Someday, you may need to repay the favor, although it may not be pleasant. In fact, in the new novel “The One I Left Behind” by Jennifer McMahon, it may come at a bigger price than one might think.
Thirty-nine-year-old Reggie Dufrane never wanted to return to Monique’s Wish.
The old stone house was once a labor of love, built by Reggie’s grandfather for his wife, Monique, who died in childbirth. It was supposed to be a gift, but Reggie only saw it as a place to escape forever.
She never wanted to return. But when her Aunt Lorraine phoned, she had no choice.
Twenty-five years ago, Reggie’s mother, Vera, was the final victim of a serial killer that the media dubbed Neptune. Though they never found her body, they found Vera’s right hand, amputated neatly, the calling card of a killer.
But Vera was very much alive. She’d been living in a homeless shelter all those years, and now she was dying of cancer. Lorraine demanded that Reggie bring Vera to Monique’s Wish for her final days, though returning to a life’s worth of bad memories was something Reggie didn’t want to do.
In retrospect, Vera hadn’t been a good parent. Reggie spent more time with her aunt than with her mother because Vera loved to drink. Lorraine resented that, and she seemed to resent Reggie, too. Because she felt unloved, and because of a childhood injury, Reggie grew up self-conscious, self-destructive and unable to resist peer pressure from a reckless supposed best friend. It had taken a long time to overcome that. She didn’t want to return to it.
But the fact of the matter was that her mother was alive and dying. The other fact was that Neptune was never caught and vulnerable Vera was still in danger.
Then again, so was Reggie …
I really have to stop reading books like this before bedtime.
I was OK until I got about a quarter of a way through it. But then author Jennifer McMahon made me jump and, well, helloooo nightmares.
Though there are some rough spots in editing and a little bit of initial back-and-forth confusion in timeline, “The One I Left Behind” is a pretty fine thriller. The characters are a creepy bunch, even when you may think they’re not supposed to be. There are lots of distractions here to keep you guessing, and plenty of dead ends that should easily foil early-solvers. In fact, I didn’t know where McMahon was going until almost the end of this book, which was mighty satisfying.
So if you need to scare up a few scares, this book should be your next read need. For lovers of a high Creep Level, “The One I Left Behind” won’t be left behind anywhere.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been a professional book reviewer for more than a decade. She lives in Wisconsin.