THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME
Author: Holly Goddard-Jones
Atlantic RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Character-driven and well-constructed, The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard-Jones is a satisfying crime/psychological suspense novel that delves into a small community and exposes the secrets, prejudices and desires under the facade. It’s a novel in which the mystery is secondary to the people of the community; even when the mystery is solved, it’s more about the impact the mystery has on the central characters. As far as crime novels go, it’s not a police procedural either so the investigation itself has little importance. I’d venture as far to say that classifying it “crime” is simplifying it a bit.
When 13-year-old Emily Houchens finds a body in the woods near her house, she keeps it a secret for a few days. The woods are her safe place; Emily struggles to fit in at school and is often the target of bullying. It’s as if by keeping the body a secret, she has control over something; she will tell, just not yet. Elsewhere in the town, Susanna Mitchell (Emily’s teacher) is worried about her sister, Ronnie, who hasn’t called her for a while. When she goes to her sister’s house, Susanna realises that Ronnie vanished after leaving a late-night bar. Wyatt wakes up in hospital after suffering a heart-attack; his nurse is a woman he met at Nancy’s dance hall, the place he was pranked by some cruel, younger colleagues. As he recovers, he remembers meeting a younger woman in the bar; after realising Wyatt had been left with a bill and no way home, she came to his aid. Tony Joyce investigates Ronnie’s disappearance; as a black man in a white town, as an athlete downed by injury, it’s almost as if he has a point to prove.
All of these characters, and more, are linked together by circumstance or their past. When Wyatt falls ill, his colleague, Emily’s father, offers to look after his dog. Susanna and Tony had a mild, unresolved flirtation in their youth, but Susanna, knowing how her father would feel about her dating a black man, rejected Tony’s advances. Everyone knows Ronnie – she’s a fast-living, get-around woman with a reputation for drinking and promiscuity. Other secondary characters have their own opinions of Ronnie and, these in turn affect the main characters in various ways. As a small-town study, The Next Time You See Me works very well. Instead of just the mystery of a missing woman, there’s a raft of reactions to past and present events that weave throughout the story, keeping the reader wondering about motivations and choices.
The characters were flawed but realistic; some were stronger than others (like Sarah, who makes a responsible choice when confronted with the possibility that she knows the murderer). Although the novel is character-driven, their development is minimal – instead Goddard-Jones shows us people who we could find in any community – a disenchanted wife, a bitter athlete, a damaged woman who masks pain with drugs and alcohol, that girl who is different, the popular girl and the child who knows wrong from right but wants to fit in. In a sense, the micro-community of the school where Emily attends and Susanna teachers serves to accentuate the small-town portrait.
The ending is somewhat open-ended; the mystery is solved, but questions remain about the characters. What’s next for some of them? Some readers find this frustrating; I think it’s realistic. In real-life we often don’t find out what happened next (unless it’s a celebrity “Where are they now?” story). Life goes on – as it does for us, so it will for the characters. The Next Time You See Me is a solid debut novel from Goodard-Jones and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: Cheese and crackers. Sounds simple, but depending on the cheese, there can be plenty of depth of flavour.