EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 17, 2013

'One I Left Behind' delivers thrills and chills

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Once upon a time, your parents diapered your behind. They didn’t mind, though, because it was part of being a parent.

They also fed you, cleaned up after you, put clothes on your little body, toys in your bedroom, and lessons in your head. And they made meals, curfews, and sacrifices.

Someday, you may need to repay the favor. And in the new novel, “The One I Left Behind” by Jennifer McMahon, such repayment comes at a very big price.

Thirty-nine-year-old Reggie Dufrane never wanted to return to Monique’s Wish. The old stone house once was a labor of love for Reggie’s grandfather, who built it for his wife, Monique, who died in childbirth. It is so full of bad memories, though, that Reggie never wanted to return.

When Aunt Lorraine phones, however, she has no choice.

Twenty-five years ago, Reggie’s mother, Vera, was the final victim of a serial killer that the media dubbed Neptune. Though they never found her body, they found Vera’s right hand, amputated neatly, the calling card of a killer.

Vera, however, is very much alive. She’s been living in a homeless shelter all these years, and now she’s dying of cancer. Lorraine demands that Reggie bring Vera to Monique’s Wish for her final days, though returning to a life’s worth of bad memories is something Reggie doesn’t want to do.

Vera wasn’t a good parent. Reggie spent more time with her aunt than with her mother, because Vera loved to drink. Lorraine resented that, and she seemed to resent Reggie, too. Because she felt unloved, and because of a childhood injury, Reggie grew up self-conscious, self-destructive, and unable to resist peer pressure from a reckless supposed-best friend.

It took a long time to come to terms with all of that. And yet, here she is with her mother, who is very much alive, but dying. And Neptune was never caught. And vulnerable Vera still is in danger.

So is Reggie …

I really have to stop reading books like this before bedtime. I was okay until I got about a quarter-way through it. Then McMahon made me jump and, well, hello nightmares.

Though there are some rough spots in editing and a little bit of initial back-and-forth confusion in the timeline, “The One I Left Behind” is a fine thriller. The characters are a creepy bunch, even when you may think they’re not supposed to be. Lots of distractions keep you guessing, and plenty of dead ends should easily foil early solvers. I didn’t know where McMahon was headed until almost the end of this book, which was mighty satisfying.

Consider “The One I Left Behind” a must-pick-up for lovers of a high Creep Level.