‘The Disappearing’ By Lori Roy. Dutton, 352 pages, $27
Florida author Lori Roy comfortably moves into the realm of Southern gothic with her fourth novel — and the first set in contemporary times. Roy cloaks “The Disappearing” with a chilling atmosphere resplendent with an abandoned scary place, hidden graveyards and sudden disappearances. There’s even a hint of a boogeyman casting his shadow over the area.
Roy’s affinity for haunting, lyrical prose that elevates the noir elements continues in “The Disappearing.”
Following her divorce, Lane Fielding reluctantly returns to her hometown of Waddell, Florida, with her daughters, Annalee, 18, and Talley, 10. Even more hesitantly, Lane moves her family in with her elderly parents, Neil and Erma.
The homecoming is not pleasant. Neil has been accused of having beaten, and, perhaps, murdered several boys when he was headmaster of the now shuttered reform school adjacent to their home, the historic Fielding Mansion. Graves are being uncovered and lawsuits are being filed by the boys who survived their time at the reform school and by families of the boys who were never heard from again. Gossip on Neil’s guilt or innocence is rampant throughout the town. The home has never been happy — Neil was a controlling husband and father, and he and Erma never loved each other.
But Lane has more reasons to dislike being in Waddell. When Lane was 13, she was kidnapped and held by one of the boys at the school. The town isn’t welcoming to Lane, either. She’s ostracized for having a one-night stand with the married owner of a tavern where she works, and, as a result, her daughters also are nearly outcasts.
A Florida State student, who volunteers with the mansion’s historical preservation, goes missing and, shortly after, Annalee disappears. The local sheriff wonders if a serial killer may be the culprit as the residents still remember when another killer named Ted abducted a young woman decades ago. Lane worries the two young women may have been targeted because of their connection to the Fieldings.
“The Disappearing” smoothly alternates among the different characters’ points of view. Lane, each of her daughters, Erma and Neil explain the events and their own motivations as does a young man who tends a church’s gardens and intently watches the town residents. Roy churns the plot with an eerie atmosphere, complete with towering trees still scarred from the ropes from which people are rumored to have died. “Ghosts are here. . . they drip from the moss, quiver in the broad, leathery leaves, and cling to the rough brown bark,” one character thinks.
Roy is the first woman to receive an Edgar Allen Poe Award for both best first novel — “Bent Road” in 2011 — and best novel — “Let Me Die in His Footsteps” in 2016.
Roy again excels with a nuanced view of characters in “The Disappearing.”
Meet the author
Lori Roy will discuss “The Disappearing” at 7 p.m. July 25 at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790, murderonthebeach.com, and at 8 p.m. July 26 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408.
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.