REVIEW OF THE THREE BETHS by JEFF ABBOTT

All Mariah Dunning wants is answers. What she has is an inexhaustible desire to learn the truth.

In THE THREE BETHS, Mariah Dunning’s mom Beth has disappeared from their upscale Texas neighborhood, sending ripples of tragedy through the Dunning family and sending their lives into a tailspin. Always the number one suspect of the local police, Mariah’s dad has been forced into being a hermit. Craig Dunning spends his days bunkered down in his home in an effort to avoid the stares and scorn of the neighbors. His only company is his daughter and his elderly corgi, Leo. Often the object of pranks and vandalism, the town of Lakehaven wants the Dunning family out of town. Craig, Mariah, and Leo are surrounded by a sea of anger and suspicion. While they are a united front against the outside world, Craig and Mariah are inches away from falling into the despair in their own hearts. Leo is always hopeful for treats.

Aided by her high school friend Chad, who now operates a successful true-crime blog and insists he be referred to as “Reveal,”  Mariah learns of another missing persons case. Another woman named Beth has recently gone missing from their town. In a town as small as Lakehaven, and with as low a crime rate as they have, how can there be two women missing with the same first name? Clutching this tiniest of straws, as well as trunk load of guns and a telescoping baton, Mariah begins to poke around the hidden underbelly of the small town. In the grand tradition of Lou Archer, Mariah digs deeply into the family dramas of her neighbors and strangers, using “My mom is also missing, her name is Beth, too” as her badge. Most of the time, her suspects are so thrown off guard by Mariah’s boldness and yearning for truth that they have no choice but to answer. Her search takes her to Sharon Blevins, the mother of the missing Bethany Blevins Curtis. Watching Mariah question the wary Sharon, who is armed only with her loneliness and her Bible, is a treat. These two women are strangers with nothing in common, but their shared loss makes them family of sorts. Each woman has her own Beth-shaped emptiness.

Mariah is a fascinating character. Since she’s in every scene in the book, Abbott makes sure she is multi-layered and engaging. When we first meet her, on a rare outing to the mall with her dad, she is driven to rashness by her yearning for answers and resolution. As her search goes on, we see layers of grief, anger, and loneliness. Always digging deeper, Jeff Abbott becomes an archeologist of the stages of grief.

Jeff Abbott knows his way around a suspense thriller. Another author would be tempted to shove the myriad puzzle pieces together as fast as possible, thus speeding their way to the THREE BETHS’ shattering conclusion. But Abbott lays out the edge pieces of the puzzle at a deliberate pace, so that when the book is done, every single piece of it fit together, making the overall plot resolution make perfect sense. It’s a resolution that stays with you. Because really, there really no other way for the tragedy to have played out.

 

Dan Malmon