(October 4, 2011)
Most parents know that raising children can be a perilous job, bringing to the surface every emotion that we are capable of experiencing. We take pride in their accomplishments, endure frustration over their lack of discipline, laugh at their observations and fret over everything from their choice of friends to the clothes they wear. But perhaps the worst emotion that a parent can have is the fear that one day their child will disappear. This is not the kind of anxiety that goes away as a child grows older and becomes more independent. In fact, sometimes it is that very independence that opens a door, inviting the unthinkable into one’s life. David Bell’s Cemetery Girl deals with this subject in a nail biting page turner told through the eyes of a parent as he tries to come to grips with the re-appearance of his teenage daughter, four years after she vanished while walking the family dog.
In the years since Caitlin Stuart disappeared, her parent’s marriage has begun to fall apart. Her mother Abby has moved on, finding solace in the local church and its pastor. She’s convinced her husband Tom to get rid of the family dog, and has even planned a funeral and burial for Caitlin despite the fact that a body has never been found. Tom reluctantly agrees to attend the funeral but skips the burial in order to meet with his lawyer, a woman named Liann whose own daughter was abducted and murdered years earlier. Liann has brought a young woman along to the meeting, who appears to be no more than a teenager herself. The girl, a stripper, claims to have seen someone resembling Caitlin in the company of an older man at the strip club where she works. The police are summoned, a description of the man is given, and soon Caitlin is discovered in the middle of the night, walking alongside the road alone and disheveled.
The story is told from Tom’s point of view, therefore allowing the reader to experience every headache, doubt and gut wrenching realization that he may never know the details of what happened to Caitlin during her ordeal. Caitlin’s return has brought with it complications and stress which Tom and Abby never imagined but must contend with. The two disagree on the choices they must make on Caitlin’s behalf including what type of therapy is best for her and who can be trusted to have their daughter’s best interest at heart. The family soon finds itself surround by numerous individuals who all seem to have their own agenda. The police are more concerned with finding the suspect and locking him up than they are with Caitlin’s welfare. Different therapists are vying for the chance to treat her, despite the fact that Caitlin isn’t talking, and Tom’s half brother Buster, a man once convicted of indecent exposure and drug possession has arrived, anxious to help Caitlin. Making matters worse is Caitlin, who at sixteen and no longer a child, refuses to divulge anything about her time away, wanting only to return to the man who abducted her.
Bell does an excellent job of describing Tom’s frustration with a situation that no parent is ever prepared to face. The recovery of a lost child should result in a joyful reunion for both the parents and the child, but what ensues in Cemetery Girl is anything but. Tom, desperate to find out what happened to his daughter, realizes that in order to get that information, he may have to risk losing Caitlin all over again and possibly end up in jail.
With Cemetery Girl, David Bell has delivered a first rate thriller that provides the reader with enough sketchy characters to engage and challenge even the most seasoned reader. Followers of the genre can celebrate the addition of another gifted storyteller.