Sheriff Jax Turner sits in his patrol car by the ocean, his Glock 22 in hand. Ten years ago, he moved to the small town of Misty Pines, Oregon, to escape the grief that haunts him after losing his young daughter Lulu to cancer.
His deep grief drove away Abby his wife who divorced him. He’s about to turn the gun on himself when a call comes in, and he gets a code 1054. Trudy his assistant tells him Allison, a fourteen-year-old local girl, is missing. Jax knows her and her mother Emily Krueger. He doesn’t want to go. He just wants to die. But he knows what it’s like to lose a daughter.
We already know Allison was abducted as a short prologue introduced us to someone who stopped at her bus stop and offers an upset Allison a ride to school. We can assume that she knows the person by the way she acts. Along with Sheriff Turner, we now must piece together all the information to find the abductor before it’s too late.
Turner reluctantly puts away his Glock and heads to the office.
Author Mary Keliikoa brings this story to life with haunting details. A lone rocker moving with a light breeze. Allison’s room and her sand dollar collection. A barn that smells of dirt, urine, and manure. Her characters feel familiar and could come from any small town or city neighborhood. We learn that Allison’s distraught mom Emily keeps secrets. Her husband Daniel left her and Allison eight years ago to move in with Elena, a shrink, who also keeps secrets and is no longer with Daniel, and Elena had a close relationship with Allison.
The Sheriff discovers that Allison threatened to move in with her dad. Drugs are found. So is Allison’s backpack. Suspicious activities seem to be happening at the nearby farm where Allison worked. The web of connections—including Allison’s crush Dylan, Elena’s brother Steven, Rick an ex-con from a nearby farm where Allison worked, and the local county commissioner—not only gets more complex, but one piece of evidence leads back to the abduction and murder of another young woman twenty-five years ago. The complications push Turner to call his former partner Detective Jameson for information about that case and to get his help.
As Turner systematically tries to find Allison, he also finds that everyone is hiding something. To further complicate the investigation, the county commissioner, Dylan’s father, impedes the investigation. And he’s not the only one.
Turner is a fascinating character. At times, he seems to be suffering a type of grief-caused fugue that muddies his mind and that we can only interpret as depression from the grief. He forges ahead, however, thinking he’ll return to the coast when the case is solved. But he’s also hoping to save Allison. He couldn’t save his daughter, so this gives him a cause.
Keliikoa keeps all the characters, their secrets, and their whereabouts perfectly positioned for the final suspenseful, frightening scene. She never loses sight of her characters’ motives or emotions and why they do what they do. All seem human and hurting for one reason or another. Keliikoa also delivers the story without fancy fireworks or embellishments. Her characters are relatable, even her minor characters—like Trudy, Jax’s assistant, who mothers him and makes sure he eats and sleeps. As the Sheriff works the investigation, we ride a roller coaster of hope that Allison is found alive yet despair when so many roadblocks are put in his way. Jax’s self-destructive path might also disappear if he can save the girl, and that would give him a purpose to keep living.
Mary Keliikoa is the multi-award-nominated author of the PI Kelly Pruett mystery series. Hidden Pieces is the poignant first novel in her new Misty Pines Mysteries that will hopefully see Sheriff Jax Turner return to solve more crimes in this ocean-side Oregon town of fog, ragged jetties, and close-knit neighbors.