Author: Alafair Burke
Faber RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

If You Were HereI like a good suspense thriller so I was pleased to receive a copy of If You Were Here by Alafair Burke courtesy of The Reading Room and Allen & Unwin. Some high-profile authors have praised Burke, including Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter and Lee Childs, so it’s fair to say I was expecting something pretty good. What I got was a solid and interesting, if not outstanding, read.

A young pickpocket is pulled from the tracks of a subway station seconds before an oncoming train’s arrival. When a video of the incident briefly emerges it unlocks a mystery that goes back over a decade.

McKenna Jordan, disgraced assistant attorney general and now magazine journalist, is investigating the story the heroic woman who saved Nicky Cervantes when video footage makes her catch her breath. There, on the screen, is her missing friend/room-mate Susan Hauptmann, who disappeared 10 years earlier. Her husband, Patrick, doesn’t believe it’s Susan and wants McKenna to let the past lie, but McKenna can’t let it go. Her search takes her to an eco-terrorism group called People Protecting the Planet and puts her in the FBI’s radar. They’re not the only ones keeping an eye on McKenna. Someone else is intent on muddying the waters, and McKenna’s career and reputation is soon in tatters. Is Susan alive? And if she is, where has she been for the last 10 years?

Secrets, lies, scandal and corruption are at the essence of If You Were Here, a well-plotted book from a fast-developing writer. Overall, the book is smartly-written and paced, although I found the ending a bit rushed. The plot twist turned out to be nothing new – I’d read something similar in Helene Young’s Half Moon Bay, which I felt delivered the story more convincingly. That said, I liked If You Were Here; it just didn’t have that unputdownable factor I’d hoped for and that led me to analyse the story a little more closely between reading breaks. I did like the thinly veiled references to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher – they made me smile.

One thing that worked well for me was the tension between McKenna and Patrick as more information about Susan was revealed. This aspect was believable; due to mis-communication (and omission of information), the marriage went from solid to shaky as McKenna’s investigation deepened. I understood McKenna’s reaction, even if it wasn’t something I’d do (logically, I thought that communicating rather than running would have had a different result). However, with her confidence in shreds, her suspicion of Patrick was understandable. As for Susan, her character was a difficult one – she didn’t come across as likeable much of the time, but I think there’s a whole lot more to Susan than what is on the page. I’d have liked a bit more insight into her, so I could understand her more.

If you like a good mystery, give If You Were Here a chance. Like I said, it’s a good read – I’ve just read a lot lately that are hard to trump.

Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room.

Bookish treat: Blue Eyes may have given me some Twisties to eat while I read this. No comment.




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