I was delighted to receive this novel through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. From the first paragraph of lush, gorgeous prose, in which Sigel describes Joshua running toward the light in The Hollow, I knew this would be a heartbreaking, yet uplifting book. The title is a bit misleading, as the mystery behind the disappearance of 14-year-old Dan Sandler plays second fiddle to its aftermath in the lives of his parents, Joshua and Nathalie. I knew what the resolution to the disappearance would be, but that’s not the point, and the flawless pacing made The Disappearance extremely difficult to put down. The suspense is relentless, fueled by dips into the past that begin to shed frustrating shafts of light on a mystery that at first is in absolute darkness. No one saw anything the day that Dan disappeared. There is no physical evidence of any kind. Over weeks and months, as hope fades and Nathalie and Joshua fall apart both separately and as a family, pinpoints of light reveal murky connections and slim clues. I’m normally resigned to reading in fits and starts, but I desperately wanted to shut myself in my room and read this book in one go. I stayed up far too late to find out if Joshua and Nathalie would find closure, or at the very least, a way to move on.
The Sandlers are newcomers to their summer home of The Hollow, a hamlet outside the little town of Smithfield, Massachusetts. When they return to their real lives in New York after the disappearance, Joshua throws himself into work while maintaining a grueling schedule of investigation in The Hollow: calling the police chief twice a day, spending his weekends interrogating neighbors. Nathalie’s cello sits untouched as she plunges into depression. Their opposing responses to uncertainty and grief push them further and further apart. The struggle of parents following a child’s death or disappearance is a story that’s been told a thousand times, but Sigel’s portrayal is fresh and realistic, and Nathalie and Josh are shown so clearly that their agony is almost unbearable. It is a credit to Sigel that I, too, held out hope for a happy ending to Dan’s disappearance.
The small town is drawn beautifully. The police chief, Sammons, is not the usual bumbling hick portrayed in small-town law enforcement. He is thorough and determined, and most importantly, he cares deeply and never gives up on finding answers for the Sandlers. Information about the townspeople is dribbled out in a realistic, non-intrusive fashion. Coupled with Sigel’s gift for description, this makes for a richly nuanced image of The Hollow and its inhabitants.
In The Disappearance, Efrem Sigel has crafted a haunting, beautiful novel of tragedy’s aftermath, with deeply human characters and a satisfying resolution. Pick it up on February 1 or pre-order it here.
A Publisher's Weekly interview with Efrem Sigel here.