Then She Vanishes – A Young Girl’s Disappearance Haunts Those Left Behind

In 1994, Flora Powell, her younger sister, Heather, and Heather’s best friend, Jess, are inseparable. Jess, whose recently divorced mother is never around, spends most of her days and nights at the Powell home. Margot Powell welcomes her daughters’ friend, becoming the mother Jess wishes she had.

But one fateful summer everything changes. The carnival is in town and 16 year-old Flora becomes enamored of a 19 year-old who works one of the rides. Dylan calls Flora “gypsy girl,” because of her long dresses. Even though at 14, Heather is the younger sister, she’s protective of Flora and doesn’t trust Dylan. Margot asks that the girls be home by 9:30 each night, and Heather often has to tear Flora away from the carnival so they can meet that curfew. But one night Flora disappears. She’s last spotted walking home from a bus stop. The lace blouse she was wearing is found, covered with blood.

Twenty-five years later, Heather, now a wife and mother, picks up a shotgun and walks into a house where she kills Clive Wilson, 58, and his mother, Deirdre, 79. Heather is found in a barn on her mother’s property, apparently having sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. For days she remains in a coma, unable to provide a motive for the double homicide.

Jess hasn’t seen Heather in years. Flora’s disappearance served to drive them apart, each girl with secrets she didn’t want to share. After working for a newspaper in London, Jess is back home, writing for the weekly Bristol and Somerset Herald. Her editor, Ted, assigns her the story. Taking the staff photographer, Jack, with her, Jess prays that the Heather being identified as the killer is not the Heather she once knew. But as soon as she’s given Heather’s address, she knows she is about to cover her most difficult story yet.

Narration for the present story alternates between Jess and Margot, while there are flashbacks to the summer of 1994 before and after Flora’s disappearance. Initially Margot is angry when Jess shows up on her doorstep, blaming her for abandoning Heather at such a difficult time. That Jess is now a journalist wanting an exclusive interview with Margot doesn’t help. Slowly, however, the two are able to heal past hurts and focus their attention on helping Heather.

Jess also must deal with her own problems. She left the London newspaper under a cloud. Taking a job with a weekly was a demotion and she still hasn’t told her boyfriend, Rory, the truth about why they needed to move. When Jess finds a ruby ring and knows that Rory will soon propose, she goes into a tailspin. The past continues to haunt her and until she finds some answers she won’t be able to move forward.

Claire Douglas’ fans – and there are many – will not be disappointed in her latest thriller. Douglas constructs an intricate plot revolving around intriguing characters. There are many surprises, but Douglas plants clues along the way for those savvy enough to pick them up. And she delivers a theme that resonates: true friendships can weather the worst of times and still endure. 

Then She Vanishes
Claire Douglas

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (513 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.