Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: After Her

Summary: The New York Times bestselling author of Labor Day and The Good Daughters returns with a haunting novel of sisterhood, sacrifice, and suspense.

I was always looking for excitement, until I found some . . .

Summer, 1979. A dry, hot Northern California school vacation stretches before Rachel and her younger sister, Patty—the daughters of a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome (and chronically unfaithful) detective father and the mother whose heart he broke.

When we first meet her, Patty is eleven—a gangly kid who loves basketball and dogs and would do anything for her older sister, Rachel. Rachel is obsessed with making up stories and believes she possesses the gift of knowing what's in the minds of people around her. She has visions, whether she wants to or not. Left to their own devices, the sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the mysterious neighbor who moved in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that looms behind their house.

When young women start turning up dead on the mountain, the girls' father is put in charge of finding the murderer known as the "Sunset Strangler." Watching her father's life slowly unravel as months pass and more women are killed, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet . . . using herself as bait to catch the killer. But rather than cracking the case, the consequences of Rachel's actions will destroy her father's career and alter forever the lives of everyone she loves.

Thirty years later, still haunted by the belief that the killer remains at large, Rachel constructs a new strategy to smoke out the Sunset Strangler and vindicate her father—a plan that unexpectedly unearths a long-buried family secret.

Loosely inspired by the Trailside Killer case that terrorized Marin County, California, in the late 1970s, After Her is part thriller, part love story. Maynard has created a poignant, suspenseful, and painfully real family saga that traces a young girl's first explorations of sexuality, the loss of innocence, the bond shared by sisters, and the tender but damaged relationship between a girl and her father that endures even beyond the grave. -- William Morrow

I actually read AFTER HER by Joyce Maynard some time ago and just recently realized that I never wrote my review. I've been slacking lately with my blogging "responsibilities," but there's really no excuse for this. Sometimes, I read a novel and I'm kind of wishy-washy about it. Those reviews are always difficult ones for me to write. However, in the case of AFTER HER, I loved this novel and I want to put it in the hands of everyone I know!

AFTER HER takes place in the late 1970s in California and is very loosely based on the story an actual serial killer that took place in Northern California. Sisters Rachel and Patty live (and even play) in the area where the "Sunset Strangler" is committing his crimes. Needless to say, their lives are turned upside-down when the murders start occurring.

Their father is a charismatic police detective who has cheated time and time again on their mother, and their mother is still reeling from his betrayal. When their father becomes involved in solving this crime, his entire persona changes when he can't solve the crime. The girls not only watch their mother unravel because of the divorce, but they also see the destruction of their father.

Thirty years later, Rachel is still deeply haunted by her childhood and desperately wants to vindicate her father. She eventually finds the killer while also discovering a very hidden family secret.

I adored AFTER HER and I haven't felt that way about a lot of books in the past few months. It was one of those novels that I didn't want to put down, but at the same time, I didn't want it to end. I am a very big fan of Ms. Maynard's, and I've come to appreciate her beautiful storytelling abilities and complex character development. AFTER HER didn't disappoint, and it had a little bit of something for everyone -- mystery, suspense, love, family narrative, and even a coming-of-age story. Basically, all of the things I love about books!

It's difficult for me to focus on one or two great things about this novel because everything pretty much worked for me. While I wouldn't classify this as a traditional mystery, I did appreciate the mystery/suspense story line; and it definitely added to my overall enjoyment of the story. Of course, I also was very impressed with Ms. Maynard's writing style and especially the way she decided to tell the story  -- through the eyes of two young girls rather than the police detective or even the murderer.

And I think the characters are what makes Joyce Maynard's novels so very special. She is able to take a unique perspective on stories by making the characters so real. In AFTER HER, she delved into the members of this family and truly explored the way these crimes affected them. The father's pain and frustration was so genuine that I could almost feel it, while the mother's pain of losing her husband was equally gripping. By focusing on the two young daughters (and especially Rachel), the reader is not only able to see how much they were affected by these events, but also their perspective on their parents' behavior.

It won't be a surprise when I say that AFTER HER would make a fantastic book club selection. There is a
reading guide available with fourteen thought-provoking questions. Of course, you will want to talk about the characters, but you also might want to discuss the following themes: adultery, disappointment, love, betrayal, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, death, loss, grief, depression, redemption, and imagination.

AFTER HER is an excellent novel about a family who is torn apart by a series of murders. Highly recommended to fans of family dramas and literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too! It captivated me. After Labor Day and this book, I consider myself a Joyce Maynard fan.

Beth Hoffman said...

Terrific review, Julie! I have this one on my list and am glad to know it's a winner.

Beth F said...

Wasn't it a great book? I love pretty much everything by Maynard

Unknown said...

I may have to pick this up on your review alone!