Review: Cemetery Girl by David J. Bell

Cemetery Girl

Cemetery Girl has been languishing on my to-be-read shelf since I picked it up at a bargain book sale a couple of years ago. I’d heard some buzz about the book and was excited to get my hands on a copy of the book since my local library didn’t have a copy at the time.

I’m guessing that initial enthusiasm wore off or else I got distracted by other books either that I purchased, received as ARCs or checked out from the local library. And so it was that I was getting ready for last weekend’s World Read-athon day that I stumbled across the book in my to-be-read pile and decided maybe it was time to move it up in the rotation.

Four years ago, Tom and Abby’s 12-year-old daughter Caitlin disappeared from their local park while walking their dog. In that time, Abby and Tom have grown apart as Tom continues to follow up any lead or shred of evidence that he thinks could bring Caitlin back and Abby turns to more spiritual means to find comfort and acceptance that their daughter has vanished and may not come back. Just as Abby is ready to close the door on Caitlin’s return and Tom chases down what he feels is the promising lead they’ve had in years, Caitlin is returned, dirty, bruised and refusing to discuss where she’s been the past four years.

Caitlin’s return isn’t necessarily the happy ending that Tom imagined it would be. Her return only fuels his anger and determination to find out what happened and who took her. And Caitlin refuses to give away any answers to her parents or to the authorities.

Cemetery Girl is a fascinating but ultimately frustrating novel. It’s a suspense thriller whose pages turn by quickly and where a new development or red herring comes up at a nice clip. This is a good thing because it doesn’t allow the reader to slow question things taking place in the novel or certain developments. At least until the novel’s final third when David J. Bell begins to pile on absurdity on top of the next as the dominoes begin to fall and we find out what happened to Caitlin and some of her motivation for staying silent.

Bell sews a seed of doubt about Caitlin early in the novel as Tom relates an incident from early in her life where she lied to him to his face. I kept expecting this incident to have more of an impact on things or to imply that Caitlin was somehow involved in her disappearance but these seeds never bear any fruit. Instead it feels more like one more red herring in a novel that has one or two red herrings too many.

There’s also a subplot about Caitlin’s uncle that never quite pays off as it should or could.

Cemetery Girl is a novel with a lot of potential and yet I couldn’t help but come away feeling dissatisfied by it. The twists and turns of the final third don’t seem quite exaggerated enough based on what the plot threads and details Bell includes in the first third of the novel. There’s also a lot of questions I had about characters and their motivations in the final third that aren’t adequately addressed or explained. And the ending feels a bit abrupt and pointless. After spending three hundred or so pages with the story, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a “happy ending” but I was hoping we’d get something more than what Bell gives us.

This novel had a lot of potential. It’s just too bad it didn’t live up to all of it.

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