A lot of my initial disappointment with this book was because I was reading under the assumption that McMahon was Laura Lippman, a murder mystery author I adore, and thought Lippman had taken temporary leave of her senses when she wrote this. Only she didn’t write it and I think this was McMahon’s first novel, so it’s a bit unfair that I was holding it to such a high bar, but there it is.
McMahon can’t decide if she’s writing a ghost story or a murder mystery and so the plot exists in some blurry no man’s land in the middle with its hands in the air in the middle of a shrug. Which is fitting, as the main character also has trouble with committing to anything.
Kate has to return home to her mother’s hippie commune as her mom’s mental state is slowly deteriorating. Once there, Kate can’t decide what to do with her mother and spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and the murder of her secret best friend, Del. Del was the school pariah, so Kate would only be her friend in secret. This of course leads to an inevitable betrayal of Del by Kate one day at school, which indirectly leads to Del’s murder. Back in the present day, after Kate’s arrived home and is doing a piss poor job of taking care of her mother, another local girl is murdered in the same manner as Del. So Kate becomes a suspect because an eight year old doing a heinous, brutal murder and then returning 40 years later to do it again is a sound, logical leap to make.
So Kate has to deal with being a murder suspect, ghost Del leaving her clues to the real murderer, coming to terms with her rough childhood with her mother in a hippie commune, and reuniting with her childhood sweetheart, who is also Del’s brother. There’s too many ideas and not enough book to fully explore any of it very much, which leads to the real murder’s reveal like the book got through three stages of editing before someone remember that there were two murders to resolve, so they just threw in a random who for the whodunit.
I have another McMahon book on my shelf, because I’m willing to give her another shot (as long as I’m not suffering under the delusion that she’s Lippman again). The scene where Kate betrays Del was incredibly well written and shows that she does have potential.