book: If You Were Here (2013) by Alafair Burke


A mystery thriller that constantly entertains yet somehow never quite detonates.

Ten years ago McKenna Jordan was a bright young up-and-coming Assistant DA. Then two things happened in quick succession: she got involved in a controversial case where a white cop had killed a black man, and her best friend, Susan Hauptmann, disappeared. McKenna, now a journalist, has never really thought about the fact that there might be a connection between the two incidents.

But now an amateur phone video of a woman saving someone’s life in the New York subway convinces McKenna that Susan is alive after all these years. As she tries to work out where Susan might be and what actually happened, she becomes aware that powerful, unseen forces are putting into gear a mighty cover-up, and they don’t care if people have to be killed to keep the secret.

People like McKenna . . .

That’s the setup in brief. But then there are the complications. Oh, lordy, are there complications. It’s to Burke’s credit that it’s not hard to keep track of them all, but, that said, after a while I was beginning to wish we could get along with rather fewer dramatic revelations. I was reminded of why I tend not to watch those old fifteen- or twenty-part cinema serials: I get weary of all the cliffhangers. There was the same sort of effect here: by the time the real whapalooza of a revelation came along at the end, the humdinger that was supposed to blow my socks off, it seemed like just another link in a long chain.

On the plus side, Burke has a very lucid, accessible style — I can see exactly why someone thought to pair her up with Mary Higgins Clark, who has that same easy readability. As a result, I was never at any point bored or even close to it; but, writing these notes a mere few days after finishing the book (I’m on an impossible deadline), I already find it a bit hard to bring the novel into focus. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment of this sort, and sometimes I’m actually more in the mood for it than anything more stretching (Midsomer Murders does have its place in the scheme of things, after all), but this time I wasn’t.


4 thoughts on “book: If You Were Here (2013) by Alafair Burke

  1. I tried one from her a few years ago and wasn’t mega-impressed so have avoided her ever since. Not tempted to reconsider I’m afraid.

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