The Bottom Line: An intense, irresistible small town murder mystery that crackles with twists.
When You Leave Me dangles its delicious first clue in the opening sentence: a shoe containing a human foot, one of several that have washed ashore on the San Juan Islands over the past year. Does it belong to Larry Michaels, whose footless body was found months earlier?
Susan Wingate’s fifth Friday Harbor novel – which works well as a stand-alone entry – is told in part by Larry’s much-younger widow, Jamie. In the early going, readers will love determining whether Jamie is a reliable narrator. She talks about his dementia, their financial situation and the way Larry’s kids cut her off after Larry’s disappearance because, as she says, “they both thought I’d done something.” Adding to the intrigue, Jamie is an insurance claims adjuster and investigator.
But Jamie is hardly the most interesting character in Wingate’s cast. Jamie’s best friend, Liv, is writing a crime thriller set on the island. The pair bonded when Liv came to Jamie while doing research for her story. The relationship is palpable, as Wingate’s sleuth, Detective Sergeant Rob Rimmler, notes: “you two seem really close.”
Then there’s Afon Daniels, a successful orthopedic surgeon who moved to the island to retire at the still-spry 58-years-old. Afon waits a mere three months before he starts moving in on Jamie. Everything about Afon’s behavior on the island perfectly captures what happens when a city slicker adjusts to small town life, from the way he shows up looking “sexy” to book club to the way he pans the local restaurant.
Is there a serial killer at work, or is this just a good old-fashioned small-town murder mystery? Let’s just say that Larry won’t be the book’s last murder victim. Wingate deftly unleashes several surprises in the book’s final thirds, but readers won’t have to wait long, as the fast-paced When You Leave Me can be easily devoured on a coast-to-coast flight.