October 24, 2016
Be Careful What You Search For Because You Just Might Find It: a review of Amy Stuart's "Still Mine"
by Amy Stuart
Simon & Schuster
If you want an American backdrop that is otherworldly, and quite separate from what most folks think of when they think of America, you can't do much better than Alaska. It's about as close to Narnia as you're going to get with its terrain that's as perilous as it is pretty.
The protagonist, Clare, arrives in the remote town of Blackmore posing as a photographer and asking questions about a young missing woman named Shayna. Blackmore's residents seem content to chalk up the disappearance to drug abuse, as well as to give Clare the cold shoulder because she gives off the vibe that she's hiding something herself. Which she is, and not just the photographer alias. She has a past of her own that she's running from, which gradually reveals itself through the course of the novel.
With Clare constantly having to look over her shoulder because of both what's she running from and what she's searching for, the tension in the novel plays out really well. In fact, the real meat of the story doesn't come so much from the main plot of finding out what happened to Shayna, but pulling back the layers of deception used by Clare. It's her story and her ordeal that quickly become the driving force for the book. Without it, this would wind up little more than a by-the-numbers crime thriller. Not to say it wouldn't be a decent read; it'd just be a bit well worn.
As far as characters goes, Clare is the star and the standout. There are some glimmers from the doctor and a couple others, but the townsfolk take a while to develop and break out from the kind of stock introductions. The setting, as I mentioned before, is brilliant and lends itself to much to the story. And when it comes to the pacing, it is about as good as you could want from a story like this. You're submerged slowly, can't really see past the murky surface as you're lowered in, and then once you're all the in that pull strengthens through the final chapters and the perilousness of the situation takes over.
It's a solid debut novel from an author who shows a great deal of promise and knows how to leave a reader wanting more, because there is a sequel in the works and Clare is certainly a character that deserves to have more of her story told.