The second novel from Toronto-based author S.J. Laidlaw follows 17-year-old Luke as he tries to solve the mystery of his older sister Pat’s disappearance.
Pat is away for the summer, interning at a shark research centre on Utila, a small island off the coast of Honduras (where the author happens to have a cottage). When Pat suddenly disappears, the police insist she must have drowned. But two weeks later no body has been found, and Luke begins hearing his ocean-loving sister’s voice in his head, urging him to go to Utila and investigate.
These “conversations” between Luke and Pat are the only vaguely supernatural element in what is otherwise a straight-up adventure story in which Pat’s disappearance is linked to everything from voodoo to jealousy to ocean-polluting drug smugglers. The mystery intensifies when Luke arrives on Utila and discovers that Pat had begun building a life apart from him and their alcoholic mother. Once “the poster child for responsible living,” she had been partying a lot, and even had a secret fiancé, Jamie, whom she’d never mentioned.
The plot, offering abundant possibilities for Pat’s fate, will keep readers turning the pages. Laidlaw also does a good job depicting the island’s party scene without demonizing the idea of letting loose and having fun. What appear at first to be radical personality changes for Pat (or Tricia, as she is known on Utila) are the believable actions of a complex individual who is still finding herself.
At the novel’s heart is a message about family involving Luke’s desperation to find his sister, the difficulty they both faced growing up with troubled parents, and the comfort Luke feels at being warmly accepted by Jamie’s family. Homemade bread and group hugs are far removed from what Luke is used to, but while he’s searching for his sister, he begins to understand what she saw in this strange, small community.