WATCH ME DISAPPEAR - Janelle Brown
Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8946-5
ISBN e-book: 978-0-8129-8947-2
July 2017
Literary Fiction

California The Present

In the prologue, the reader meets Jonathan Flanagan, his beautiful and captivating wife Billie, and their daughter Olive at a Pacific Coast beach. Shortly later they visit the nearby Monarch butterfly preserve. It is October, and the migrating butterflies are settling in the preserve. This takes place shortly before Billie goes on a solo hike in the Desolation Forest and never returns. One year later, just before the anniversary of Billie's presumed death, Jonathon and Olive are still grieving and bewildered. The search for Billie found one of her hiking boots and her broken phone, but no body. Jonathan did what Billie encouraged him to do, which was leave his job at Decode Magazine, where he has successfully supported his family. He is now writing Where the Mountain Meets the Sky: My Life with Billie Flanagan as a tribute to Billie. His agent has sold the book, but Jonathan is still writing it. His prediction of what might happen if he left his job has come true, and his finances are very tight. He can't afford his daughter's tuition, not until Billie is declared dead and he receives her life insurance payout, for which the determining court date is approaching.

Olive is walking the hall of the private girl's school she attends when she feels slightly off-kilter and sees her mother at the beach. Billie asks Olive why she isn't looking for her. Olive takes this as a psychic message informing her that her mother is still alive. Can she make her father believe her? While Jonathon knows Billie had a bad childhood as her preacher father had molested a young girl, and then she ran away and got into some serious trouble involving ecoterrorism for which her former boyfriend went to prison, but she turned her life around. Jonathan and Billie met on public transportation, fell in love, and remain married for sixteen years. Billie took care of Olive while Jonathan became a workaholic. Now he works to re-establish his relationship with his daughter.

Obviously this story is about how Olive and Jonathan deal with Billie's death, and it is told in present tense, which makes the reading somewhat different in feeling, and the story switches between Olive's and Jonathan's points of view . Excerpts of Jonathan's memoir of Billie are also interspersed within the text.

Olive becomes convinced her mother is alive and needs Olive to find her. This will lead Olive on a strange journey with an unexpected ending. Jonathan also takes a journey into discovering just who Billie really was after he becomes aware of incongruities in her past. This leads him down a trail of doubt and anger. As Jonathan and Olive both try to discover the truth about the mysterious Billie, the story surveys if anyone really knows someone else, even a loved one, and if anyone can accept the truth about that person's true character. The story explores the vicissitudes in all human relationships from family to friends to strangers. Certainly readers will make judgements about different characters based on their behavior in the story. WATCH ME DISAPPEAR may start slowly, but it speeds up into a compelling mystery leading to an amazing finish.

Robin Lee