Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Penguin Random House Group: 7/11/17
eBook review copy; 368 pages
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is a recommended mystery about a missing woman and the family she left behind.
A year ago Billie (Sybilla) Flanagan went on a solo hike in the
wilderness and never came back. Her shattered cell phone and a boot were
discovered, but a body was never found. Now the family she has left
behind are looking for closure and maybe some answers. Jonathan, her
husband, is close to getting a declaration of death in absentia so he
can collect the life insurance on Billie. They desperately need the
money. At the same time he is writing a memoir about his love for Billie
and their life together. Olive, their daughter, begins to have strange
visions of her mother in which Billie is still alive. Olive is seeing
her in different situations where Billie is talking to her daughter,
telling Olive to find her.
As the two try to come to terms with Billie's death and absence from
their lives, Jonathan begins to uncover secrets from Billie's past and
lies she told him. Suddenly their lives together don't seem as clear as
he once though they were, and maybe Billie was having an affair.
Jonathan's stories about Billie become darker. Adding to the tension is
Harmony, Billie's best friend and an old friend. What does she know
about Billie's past and why is she always around. And then there is a
coming-of-age moment for Olive.
This is a well-written but rather slow paced novel that keeps turning
the same questions over again and again, with a few new details each
time and little advancement of the plot until you are well into it.
Alternating between the chapters detailing Jonathan and Olive's lives
are excerpts from Jonathan's memoir about Billie. The excerpts aren't
quite as successful in Watch Me Disappear as they have been in other novels.
Admittedly, I didn't find any of these characters that appealing,
especially Billie. She's supposed to be independent and a force unto
herself while also being whimsical and unique, but I can't believe that
Jonathan didn't notice some of the discrepancies in her travels along
with her darker nature. I also think that when authorities were looking
into Billie's disappearance while hiking, they would have likely look
into her background much more closely and talk to some of the people
that later Jonathan and Olive talked to. Olive's visions were presented
as supernatural at first and it might have been a better choice to leave
them at that and not present an explanation that never provided any
The ending is satisfying, but, no matter how good the writing is, for me
it felt like it took too long to get there. This is a much more subtle
mystery that explores how well we know family members than a tension
My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Random House Group.