"After Her", by Joyce Maynard, is at times hard to read. But the story this young girl tells is so compelling, you don't want her to stop. Even though it feels like you're entering a place you might not be able to leave as you follow her into this story.
Here are a few paragraphs from the prologue to this book:
"A little over thirty years ago, on a June day just before sunset - alone on a mountain in Marin County, California - a man came toward me with a length of piano wire stretched between his hands and the intention of ending my days. I was fourteen years old, and many others had already died at his hands. Ever since then, I have known what it is to look into a man's eyes and believe his face is the last thing you will ever see.
I have my sister to thank that I am here to tell what happened that day. Two times, it was my sister who saved me, though I was not able to do the same for my sister.
This is our story..."
It was summer of 1979. In the midst of summer vacation in Northern California.
Rachel and her younger sister Patty are the daughters of a handsome but chronically unfaithful detective father. He was a man who loves to make women happy, but it was their mother's heart he had broken.
The girls were mostly left to their own devices, to roam the mountains surrounding their home, and spin elaborate fantasies that kept them occupied through the summer school recess. They loved to play daring games, thought up mostly by Rachel, and faithfully carried out by younger sister Patty.
Then young women start turning up dead on the mountain, and the girls' father is put in charge of finding the murderer, dubbed "The Sunset Strangler."
As more and more women turn up dead, their father, who always seemed larger than life, slowly unravels under the stress and constant jabs by the media. The town seems to turn against him for not being able to find the murderer in their midst.
It is then that Rachel begins her most dangerous game yet, using herself as bait. But rather than solving the case for her seemingly broken father, her actions destroy his career instead.
It is not until thirty years later that Rachel, who never gave up hope of vindicating her now deceased father, finally figures out who "The Sunset Strangler" really is. And at the same time, she unexpectedly unearths a long-buried family secret.
This novel is loosely based on the "Trailside Killer" case that terrorized Marin County in the late 1970s.
"After Her" is a haunting novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the lure of suspense, and ultimate sacrifice. It is about the loss of innocence, the bond shared by two sisters, and the tender relationship between a girl and her father.
Maynard shows a true depth of range in her storytelling. Her characters seem real enough to touch. They will stay with you long after you've read her books.
Joyce Maynard's novel "Labor Day", which I reviewed recently, has been made into a major motion picture starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. She has been a reporter for the New York Times, a magazine journalist, a radio commentator, and a syndicated columnist. She has written six novels and four books of non-fiction. Her bestselling memoir, "At Home In The World," has been translated into eleven languages.
She makes her home in Mill Valley, California.
Note: I am given advanced copies of books to review by William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers. I am not compensated in any other way. My review is unbiased and based solely on my own reading experience.