Book Review: Missing Person by Sarah Lotz
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Mulholland Books (September 3, 2019)
Length: 480 pages
A mystery-thriller that’s more mystery than thrills, Missing Person by Sarah Lotz blends solving cold cases with social media, centering on a group of amateur sleuths who try to match names to murder victims who were never identified. But for Christina Guzman, founder of the website Missin-linc.com, shining light on these missing persons cases is more than just a macabre hobby. Still haunted by the loss of her mother whose photo and information can be found listed in the website’s database alongside dozens of other unsolved cases, Chris has never given up her search. Running Missing-linc under her handle “Ratking1”, she joins other regular users around the United States like “Rainbowbrite” and “Mommydearest” in sharing information they find on the site’s online forum.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in Ireland, Shaun Ryan has learned a shocking truth about his family. There is a possibility that his uncle Teddy, whom their mother had always said died in a car accident, might be still alive and living in New York, where he had run away to thirty years prior in the hopes of finding a better life. Instead, all he found was death. After many failed attempts to locate Teddy, Shaun ends up at Missing-linc.com where Chris and her network have determined that an unidentified murder victim from the early nineties, known only as “The Boy in the Dress”, might be his missing uncle. Together, they decide to team up to find out what really happened to Teddy Ryan, and who might have killed him.
But the thing about the internet, where anyone can hide behind a pseudonym, is that you can never be sure someone is who they claim to be. As Missing-linc’s investigation into Teddy’s case begins to gain traction and more attention, little does the team know the killer himself has been in their midst, following their every move.
I’m a huge fan of Sarah Lotz, but as my last three novels by her were in the horror genre, Missing Person was a change of pace, to say the least. And for the most part, it’s a good change, though I did miss some of the chilling, edge-of-your-seat energy that permeated her books like The Three or The White Road. In contrast, Missing Person was more of a slow burn, lacking in a lot of the delicious atmosphere that Lotz is usually so good at writing. These changes were to be expected though, as the story is just so different, reading more like a steadily unfolding crime drama.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are also transcripts of forum posts, private messages, and other forms of internet chat—a nod, perhaps, to the author’s penchant for the epistolary style. I have to say, I really enjoyed these brief glimpses into the characters’ lives, offering insight into their online dynamics. After all, you can’t write about internet forums and communities without addressing the drama. It also gave characters like Chris AKA Ratking1 and Rainbowbrite, whose real name is Ellie, more layers to their personalities, because we were able to see how they projected themselves both online and offline.
But as I alluded to in my intro, I wouldn’t say Missing Person felt particularly thrilling. You had everything laid out early on, and there was also a fair bit of repetition. It’s the kind of book where several chapters can elapse without much progress in the story overall. However, neither would I say the plot did nothing but spin its wheels. Like I said, it’s simply a different style I’m used to from the author. I still enjoyed the idea and the main driving forces behind this novel, and Lotz’s writing is as good as ever (if not better), creating vivid and engaging characters in suspenseful situations. That said, don’t expect the kind of pacing and dreadful atmosphere that is a hallmark of her horror novels, as this one is relatively tame and languid in comparison. Twist-free and limited in conflict and stakes, the ending also felt somewhat anti-climactic and incomplete.
Anyway, as you can probably tell from my review, Missing Person wasn’t my favorite book by Sarah Lotz, but it wasn’t bad by any measure. Ultimately, I simply prefer the author’s horror. Nevertheless, fans should still definitely check it out. Who knows, you might even come away with a deeper appreciation for the author’s versatility and skill at tackling something a little different—I know I did. As always, I look forward to her next book.