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" I was always looking for excitement until I found some..."
on July 15, 2013
While this novel has been described as a combination of murder mystery and coming-of-age tale, I found it to be primarily a look into family dynamics, especially the relationship between two teen sisters, Rachel and Patty.
Although there is a killer targeting young women in Marin County, I felt that the ongoing series of murders never took center stage. Instead, the sisters' enduring connection shone most brightly. In childhood, they seemed almost joined at the the hip. Inevitably, they had to forge their own identities, with some tense and rocky moments along the way. But ultimately the bond held.
The murders in this novel are loosely based on those of a real-life serial killer, nicknamed the Trailside Killer. Maynard was inspired to write this novel after meeting two sisters whose father had been head of Marin Country Homicide when the Trailside Killer was at large. They were generous enough to share not only the details of the murder investigation with Maynard but also those of their childhood in Marin Country. Perhaps that is why both Anthony Torricelli, the fictional detective in After Her, and the life of his family in the late 1970s, seems so believable.
A "heads up" for potential readers: while there are indeed descriptions (but not very graphic) of women stalked and murdered by a serial killer - and the desperate hunt to catch that killer - those expecting a breakneck series of suspenseful events are likely to be disappointed. Yes, there are two pivotal and violent events which are riveting. But while reading most of the book, I felt the murders took a lesser role to the relationship between Rachel, her sister and their parents.
One of this book's strong points is the portrayal of teen lives in 1979, when it was still considered relatively safe to roam the streets and woods near home. Since events are told from Rachel's point of view, she is naturally at the heart of the book. Maynard is skilled in depicting even minor characters, from Rachel's unreliable high school friends to her first boyfriend and their awkward sexual encounters.
Then there are Rachel's parents. Her depression-prone mother. Her father, so obsessed with finding the man behind the murders, is portrayed so sharply that his sense of helplessness, his growing pain, made me feel compassion for this very flawed man. Although the first murder hits hard, every subsequent murder takes a greater toll - and breaks his spirit that much more. He is so determined to find the killer that he becomes an increasingly distant husband and father.
Time for a confession: I'm a fan of the author and have read every single book she has written. I always look forward to her next one. So I don't have the perspective of a first-time reader of the author. I'd be interested in reactions from those who are reading After Her before any of Maynard's other books.