Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review of "If You Were Here" [37]

If You Were Here by Alafair Burke
Harper, ISBN 978-0062208354
June 4, 2013, 384 pages

Ex-prosecutor McKenna Wright was forced to resign as an assistant DA years ago over an accusation she made against a cop. She tried to get him indicted for shooting a young man, dropping a gun and claiming self defense. But someone else came forward and said he had sold the dead man the gun he was found with, so the cop went free and McKenna looked like she had failed to do her homework before she accused the cop. Her name is mud with the police department these days.

Now she has moved on, is in a happy marriage, wrote a not very successful book, and is working as a rather successful magazine journalist, always on the search for an exciting story. And she thinks she has found one. A teenage boy falls on to the subways track and is rescued by an attractive, blond woman, who grabbed the boys hand and lifted him up by herself to the platform...and then disappears in the crowd. Who is this mysterious..and quite athletic..lady?
When McKenna gets a hold of someones iPhone video of what happened..the only video, since the camera in the station was not working...she wants to see if she can track the rescuer down. What she never except to find is that the woman in the video is her friend Susan, who disappeared 10 years ago and was presumed dead.

When she starts to look into the possibility that Susan is still alive, things start to go very bad. The video disappears, computers are hacked, false e-mails planted, another scandal blows up that gets McKenna fired. Again. And how is this all related to a house explosion where someone died and a mysterious group of Eco-terrorists?
It seems that if Susan is really still alive, someone very much wants her not to be found.

There is much I liked about this book...and a couple of things I did not.
McKenna is a good character, although I wish she would learn her lesson and not jump to conclusions so often. It got her fired once, but still she does it, again..and again. And again.
But don't jump to conclusions yourself. In fact, that was not one of the things I disliked about the book. No, McKenna is smart and, by in large, thinks things out before she acts, trying to solve this mystery. That jumping part just makes her seem a bit less perfect and a bit more realistic. I also like the character of her husband Patrick, and how their relationship is depicted. Sadly, he is drawn right into the middle of a very dangerous situation... or was he already a part of it from the start? Is he good or is he bad? The book keeps you guessing and that is good too.

Then what was my problem?
Well, it is a complex plot, which is fine, but in the last quarter of the book or so, it just get out of hand. Twists are fine, but when you get one slight unbelievable event on top of another improbable event, the whole house threatens to collapse. It doesn't, but it is too close for comfort.
My greatest issue with the plot however is a decision Susan made before her disappearance, a decision that is key to the entire story. When it comes out at the close of the book..well, I just could not buy it. Susan is presented as a very smart woman, a West Point graduate, someone who served in the army as an officer with success and made the transition to private life with equal success. This key point of the plot, something she bought into, is just beyond belief. Which is a shame because it rather spoiled the ending for me of a book that, up until then, I was rather enjoying.

All in all, for me it was a good book, flawed by an overly complex, rather unbelievable ending. But still I enjoyed it and am glad I got the chance to read it...

...So my thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy.


  1. Yeah don't you get the feeling that the author is just throwing everything including the kitchen sink at you? Red herring you to death? Keeping it simple and clever is what I like. Give me great characters, great dialogue, and a great setting. When they start trying to outdo each other with the twists and the gore, I get frustrated.

  2. Yes, always a fine balance between twisting and believability. And I would be disturbed by always saying Alistair instead of Alafair (which of course is THE AUTHOR'S FAULT NOT MY FAULT). It's like the nonfiction author Amity Shlaes. Jim and I are forever calling her Amity SHALES. These people should change their names to accommodate the ignorant masses, don't you agree Kate? (HA HA)

    1. I do! in fact I must admit for the longest time, I thought the author was a man.
      in no way does this effect the quality of my review opinion though!

  3. Ugh. Too much twisty -- especially when it gets improbable -- doesn't work for me either. I liked the one book of hers I read but I may pass on this.

    1. I liked one of her books too, but this one just went off the deep end.

  4. Unfortunate that after 3/4 of the way in, it starts to get improbable. Sometimes, I think authors are not sure how to wrap up a story and that's when this happens.

    1. i was waiting for the kitchen sink to show up...she was sure to have thrown that in too!


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