Annie O’Sullivan has good reason to complain during her regularly scheduled therapy sessions. But the thirtysomething’s revelations go far beyond Portnoy-style gripes. Where once her hometown, the tiny Vancouver Island hamlet of Clayton Falls, was unknown to the general public, it has recently been identified in the popular consciousness as the place where the lady realtor was abducted.
Stevens’ gripping debut novel starts at the end of Annie’s year-long ordeal, during which she was the physical and psychological captive of a blithe psychopath at his remote mountain cabin. The details of her experience, which Annie describes with caustic bluntness, are disturbing and not for squeamish readers. Although those details stay just shy of crossing over into torture-porn, they are necessary if we are to understand how a strong, capable woman like Annie is emotionally and psychologically ravaged.
The real shocks in Annie’s account, however, come after she returns home, when she is forced to cope with personality changes, media scrutiny, and puzzling discrepancies in how her loved ones behave before and after her abduction. Stevens is adept at tightening the noose of suspense, shaping her story so it rises and falls dramatically as it progresses toward its 11th-hour revelations. The final twist will remain in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished.
Still Missing succeeds because it forces the reader to identify with Annie, however uncomfortably; we find ourselves wondering how we would fare in her dire situation, faced with a merciless captor or grappling with narcissism disguised as unconditional family love. While I did wish for some greater care with the prose and heightened attention to police procedure – which leans a little too heavily on American cop show clichés – based on the evidence of her debut, Stevens already has the goods for a strong career in psychological suspense.