The Shut Eye
Grove Press, 304 pages, $14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages, $25
I Let You Go
Berkley, 384 pages, $26
First I have to say that it has been a humbling few weeks trying to find a book that I wanted to finish and write about. Books recommended, books praised, books starred, books authoritatively put at the top of lists … by others. I tried a bunch of them, finishing only two, “The Loney” by Andrew Michael Hurley and “I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintosh, but neither seemed just right.
Although I doubted it was a horror book after I had read about fifty pages, “The Loney” in the end proved that it was. Although the suspense was kept barely humming and the writing was above average, the book proved too long strung out on religious and spiritual quests. (What is the answer? What is the question?) From the start it was obvious something odd had happened to turn a young boy hobbled by a mental handicap into an upstanding, “normal” guy with a family and a congregation to shepherd, and it was enough to keep me going until the end. But when I got there, I could only appreciate the final paragraph and the fact that I had made it to the end.
It’s hard to tell you what made me let it go without revealing the ending, but “I Let You Go” rested on an assumption and tricks rather than character building and solid storytelling. The sad story of a young boy hit by a car was too unrelievedly tragic and the police were tragic as well.
Belinda Bauer is one of the most surprising authors I have read lately. I have only read one other book by her,”Rubbernecker,” and that was a race between the plot and me to the finish. I didn’t get into the race until much later in “The Shut Eye,” but at the end I was huffing and puffing to get to the finish. Bauer is one heck of a compelling writer.
I seem to have come across more than the normal number of books centering on children. “The Loney” was about a changed child; “I Let You Go” was about a dead child. “The Shut Eye” is about two missing children. Daniel, the much-loved five-year-old son of a garage mechanic and his secretary wife, has been missing for a few weeks when the book opens. It is obvious the police have given up on finding him. The other child, twelve-year-old Edie, has been missing for longer. It is Edie that Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel has been searching for, without joy.
Marvel is a misanthrope, although he is smart enough and dogged enough to have risen in the ranks. It is his doggedness that may prove his downfall. In his desperation he even allowed himself to be talked into hiring a psychic, Richard Latham. Latham spouted all sorts of “clues,” but they couldn’t be translated into anything concrete. So Edie’s case languished until Marvel was assigned Mitzi’s case.
Marvel’s boss, the dour Superintendent Robert Clyde, has assigned Marvel, the best detective in his squad, the task of finding Mitzi, his wife’s missing dog. Thinking he could parlay finding Mitzi into additional resources for Edie’s case, Marvel agrees to look into it. What he finds is a trail back to psychic Latham.
Latham leads him in a roundabout way to the sad and woebegone Anna Buck. It is her son, Daniel, who has been missing for a few weeks. She has quit her job, scrubbed her apartment until the germs have fled in despair, shuddered at her husband’s attempts to help, and keened her sorrow until everyone thinks she has caught the last bus to the loony bin.
In a wonderfully tangled way, Bauer twists the stories around each other, bringing hope and its twin, grief, to all. I was spellbound. Even though I groused about part of the ending, I do recommend this book wholeheartedly.