The runaway success of “Gone Girl” has created a new sub-genre in the mystery/thriller section. It seems like every other book that comes out these days cover blurb touts it as being in the “same vein as ‘Gone Girl.'”
And while there have been a few books that have come close to capturing the page-turning intensity of Gillian Flynn, there have been more than a few that felt like pale imitations of the original.
For the first third of “Distress Signals,” it feels like Catherine Ryan Howard has tapped into the same vein Flynn did with “Gone Girl.” Only to see it all fall apart the more Adam Dunne digs into the disappearance of his fiance, Sarah.
An aspiring screenwriter, Adam is on the verge of finally finding the professional success that has so long eluded him. His long-time girlfriend Sarah has supported him emotionally and financially to this point, even going so far as to not allow him to give into the obvious temptation to make a work-trip a bit of a holiday for them, persuading him to stay him and focus on his rewriting. So it is that a week later Adam is blindsided when Sarah doesn’t return and he can’t track her down. As Adam tries to get assistance, only to find the police unwilling to look deeper into the matter and her family deciding that Sarah has dropped off the radar and they’re unwilling to continue looking for her.
For the first third of the novel, Howard does a masterful job of creating a sense of desperation and paranoia as Adam begins to question everything he knew about his relationship with Sarah. Was she really unhappy with his apparent refusal to “grow up” and stop pursuing his dream of being a screen writer? And did she really connect with a handsome stranger who she met up with on her business trip?
It’s one Adam begins to dig deeper into these questions and find some answers (many involving maritime law and cruise ships) that things really being to lose focus quickly. Adam’s not exactly the saint he thinks he is, but the true nature of what’s going on with Sarah makes less and less sense the more he (and we) learn about her plan.
It turns out the promise of the first hundred or so pages is spoiled by an ending that requires too huge a suspension of disbelief to fulfill.