I glanced at the empty seat again and imagined Gretchen there, rotating her left foot around in a circle, then her right. She’d be wearing her clunky-heeled sexy librarian shoes. Picking at her cuticles. Smiling just a little in spite of herself.
Jamie Madden is caught off guard when the family of her recently deceased friend, Gretchen Waters, asks her to be the literary executor of Gretchen’s unfinished manuscript. The two women haven’t spoken much in the past few months, in part due to Jamie’s difficult pregnancy. Still, Gretchen was her best friend, and organizing Gretchen’s research into something publishable seems like the right thing to do. Jamie figures she might even be able to finish the task before her fast approaching due date.
As she pours over the words that Gretchen has left behind, Jamie realizes Gretchen was writing more than just a lighthearted memoir mirrored through anecdotes about male country superstars. Gretchen was researching her family’s dark history. The breadcrumbs Gretchen has left behind lead down a dangerous path, and Jamie feels compelled to follow. But whoever is waiting at the end has already killed once to keep the past in the past; can Jamie find the truth before she meets the same fate?
- The excerpts from Gretchen’s memoir, Tammyland, and the notes for its follow-up allow Gretchen to really shine. Arsenault’s use of journal entries and transcribed voice recordings showcase the grit and vulnerability of Gretchen’s character, making her very accessible to the reader.
- Decades-old murders are great devices for really rooting a mystery. Memories have faded, witnesses have passed on, physical evidence isn’t as readily available, and the sleuth has to work a little harder to unearth the clues. If it’s done right, as Arsenault has done in Miss Me When I’m Gone, the denouement packs much more impact.
Occasionally, the dialogue between characters can be a bit stiff, but overall this is a pretty nice little mystery. The only major fault may be that Jamie’s character is on the bland side. Her pregnancy explains the lack of physical action as a character, but even her inner thoughts are mundane. There’s just no spark to her. Gretchen, though deceased before the story even begins, is much more dynamic. She does most of the real detective work, which is documented in the journal entries, files, and recordings she has left behind. Portions of the story told from her viewpoint add some flair in contrast to Jamie’s much more subdued parts. Arsenault’s transitions between the two viewpoints is not always seamless, but hardly an issue. Both the mystery surrounding the murder of Gretchen’s mother and the reveal of Gretchen’s biological father are well-plotted. This isn’t an edge of the seat, finish in one sitting mystery; however, it is one that is worth picking up and savoring over a few days.
Recommended for readers who’d like a mystery with a lil’ bit of country twang to liven things up.