” The spot where they’d found the body of Charlene Gray lay on the side of the mountain close to where we lived—a part frequented by hikers, though there were few of them in those days than later, when the idea of sitting up with special poles and shoes and shirts made out of interesting materials that didn’t absorb sweat got really fashionable. ” (52)
After Her is a suspense novel developed out of a kernel of true crime. In 1979, the quiet Marin County (north of San Francisco on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge) was rocked by murders of several young women. The killer, nicknamed Trailside Killer, preyed on women hiking the fifty mile- network of trails around Mount Tamalpais. It is against this historical event that Maynard pits her story, which concerns two inseparable sisters, Rachel and Patty, as their father, Detective Anthony Torricelli, investigate the cases.
At this point, every man you saw, especially if he was a little odd looking, you assessed as a possible killer. One of the pizza delivery boys fell into this category. (151)
Since the girls have no allowance from their mother and money has been tight, the vast expanse of the mountain that literally looms behind the house becomes their playground. They spend hours on end roaming the trails, taking naps, reading magazines, and having picnic (just saltines and peanut butter) in an abandoned rusty truck—undeterred by the murder threat.
It’s reasonable to think the book would adopt the course of a detective story with thriller element, but After Her takes a step back and examines the dynamics of the family. After their parents’ divorce and the emotional withdrawal of their mother, Rachel and Patty are left to fend for themselves. They remain very attached to their womanizer father, a cop with movie star charm who has captured the hearts of many women. Rachel, who is loyal to her father beyond all means, is the ultimate daddy’s girl. Jealous of the public attention on him, she “doesn’t want think of anyone knowing him as well as she and Patty do.” (104) When the steady mounting of victims puts tremendous pressure on him and the community criticizes on his impotence at apprehending the murderer, Rachel takes the matter in her own hands.
I came up with a plan . . . The first: luring him to the mountain, where I’d confront him. The second: making sure it was Detective Anthony Torricelli and no one else who took credit for the rescue and arrest that would follow. (208)
What makes this book special is Maynard’s choice to depict the closeness of the sisters and the relationship with their father, who constantly feels remorse for his ex-wife’s condition. While the strangler is what sets the plot in motion, the novel is really about the close ties between sisters and relationship of father and daughters. Somehow the identity of the killer becomes the background as we are engaged in how Rachel’s father, who dies young and never sees the killer arrested, shapes her adult life. After Her is a poignant but touching coming-of-age story about growing pain, love, loss, and family.
320 pp. William Morrow/Harper Collins. Advanced Reader’s Copy. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]