In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys the family – her father commits suicide, and her mother and two older sisters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, keeping a decades-long vigil for the lost child. Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before her death, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person who might care: her grandniece, Justine. For Justine, the lake house offers freedom and stability – a way to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the home she never had. But the long Minnesota winter is just beginning. The house is cold and dilapidated. The dark, silent lake is isolated and eerie. Her only neighbor is a strange old man who seems to know more about the summer of 1935 than he’s telling. Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives to steal her inheritance, and the man she left launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house haunted by the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.
HEATHER YOUNG is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award. The Distant Dead has also been nominated for the 2021 Edgar Award for Best Novel. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written. Website Twitter
My thoughts: this was really enjoyable, combining a family murder mystery with later generations attempting to move on. Justine returns to her great-aunt’s house, left to her in the will, with her two daughters. She’s running from a life she no longer wants and hopes to begin again in this small town. But the town is full of people who know her family, and know about her missing great-aunt, who never got to grow up.
As she sorts through the remnants of her aunt’s life, and her mother comes to stay, she finds herself drawn into the mystery and secrets of the past.
Alternating between Justine’s present and Lucy’s past, slowly the truth is revealed. It’s very artfully done and very enjoyable too. I felt for Justine – sleepwalking through your own life is no fun, and I understood her worries. She was trying to do the best for her children but stuck due to things like money. Her mother was a bit of a nightmare and Justine’s determination to be different meant she couldn’t be happy.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.