No Time for Goodbye is an American domestic thriller in the tradition and style of Harlan Coben, so start it when you have plenty of time in front of you. Twenty-five years ago, the parents and brother of teenager Cynthia Bigge disappeared without trace. The police are completely stumped, and for 25 years Cynthia never hears from them again. In the meantime, she is raised by Aunt Tess, goes to college, meets and marries the narrator (a high-school English teacher called Terry Archer), and has a daughter, Grace. Cynthia works in a clothes shop owned by Pam, her best friend from school, as she does not want to move away from the neighbourhood, just in case.
The book opens well, with the making of a reality TV show in which Cynthia and Terry tell the story of the past 25 years in flashback. The strain has told on Cynthia, so seeds of doubt are sown in the reader’s mind, as well as in Terry’s, about her mental stability. She is certainly paranoid about Grace’s safety, refusing to let her out of her sight.
The plot develops with real pace and tension. Strange events begin to happen – a phone call, a psychic who claims to have information, a disappearing door key to the Archer’s house…is someone using the house while the family is out? The reader is cleverly kept on the edge. Most of the story is told by the very straight Terry, so we are never sure if Cynthia is telling the truth, imagining things, or is involved in something more sinister. Terry’s life at school is portrayed in some detail, to some extent to provide a few potential suspects and red herrings, but also bringing some depth to the story in the descriptions of the creative writing Terry teaches to a “difficult” class.
Cynthia’s aunt becomes very ill and Cynthia decides to hire a private detective to look into the past tragedy again, even though she and Terry can ill-afford it. These two events stimulate various crises which lead to a racy, thrilling read and the uncovering of the central mystery.
I have to say that I guessed the bare bones of the solution early on, and also the identity of the “surprise” secondary nasty character. I also felt that the solution depended too much on clues having been overlooked in the initial investigation and subsequently. An example is the box of newspaper cuttings kept by Cynthia’s father. She is said to have pored over the contents many times, yet not one but two essential clues are found in an article and photograph kept in the box. I didn’t mind, though; the book is an impressive debut — a highly enjoyable, exciting account.
First posted on Petrona, January 2008.