With The One I Left Behind, Jennifer McMahon has crafted a work that is touching, real, and suspenseful.
The One I Left Behind tells the story of Reggie, a successful architect who has left her past behind so that she may live a life of independence and solitude. Refusing to get weighed down by relationships or family, she has done little to show her affection for on-again-off-again boyfriend Len, or to stay in touch with her family and friends of her hometown of Brighton Falls. Perhaps it is a rebellious streak, but it is more likely that the town is haunted by ghosts of her childhood; Reggie’s mom Vera was kidnapped twenty-five years ago, and the only evidence ever discovered was Vera’s scarred right hand.
Vera was the serial-killer Neptune’s last victim and the only one whose body was never recovered. For years, Reggie has lived wondering what became of her mother, and trying to put to rest her own actions from the same summer that her mother disappeared. Try as she might, however, Reggie is forced to return to Brighton Falls when her mother is discovered at a homeless shelter and diagnosed with cancer. Reggie returns to her childhood home where her Aunt Lorraine raised her after Vera’s disappearance, and begins to try to unravel the past and solve the mystery of who Neptune is. As various clues begin to surface, and Reggie faces childhood friends (and their secrets), Neptune returns too, killing his first victim in 25 years.
With realistic dialogue, and a well balanced narrative that jogs between contemporary events and the events of the summer of 1985, this is an engaging novel with characters who are truly moving. The end is completely unexpected, but the last few chapters have moments that are a bit unrealistic and rushed, but these issues don’t detract from a strong story that is thrilling and suspenseful.