Almost forty years ago, Lis’ little sister Janey went missing from their backyard. Though Lis was only 7 at the time, she also always blamed herself for not paying better attention to her sister. Despite all the time that has passed, their mother, Miss Sorrel, has never given up hope that Janey is still alive or that she might find out more information about her fates. Miss Sorrel and her friend Evelyn used to make dolls together, and now make a living fixing other people’s antique dolls. In fact, Miss Sorrel’s home is filled with rare dolls and doll parts. Janey went missing with a Miss Sorrel doll made in her image, and on the anniversary of her disappearance, Miss Sorrel always publishes a picture of the doll in the newspaper with a request for information and promise of a reward.
This year, Miss Sorrel receives a response – a young woman shows up with a broken doll that Miss Sorrel insists is Janey’s doll. Later that same evening, a gas leak causes an explosion in the home and several dolls are stolen. Vanessa, Lis’ daughter, returns to South Carolina to check on her mother and grandmother after the accident, and soon finds herself involved in a search for answers about her long lost aunt and the doll.
One thing that must be hard for authors to balance in these types of novels is how much to show so the mystery resolution doesn’t come completely out of left field. There need to be enough hints so readers won’t find it implausible and can say, “oh, that makes sense, the clues were there” without giving it away. I would say she did a decent job but I still knew fairly early on who to suspect, even if the motivations had to be spelled out more slowly. Naturally, it’s always easier for the reader to find actions suspicious than the characters so I found the time it took for the characters to catch up plausible.
One of the blurbs made mention of Mary Higgins Clark, and this was a very solid example of that type of mystery. Good for a quick read that is engaging without being too challenging, and ultimately disposable (I didn’t care too much about Vanessa’s research into dreams, and thought that was kind of an odd side plot/tangent even though Ephron ties it into the greater story through one character’s recurring nightmares).