Alice Humphrey really needs a job. So when she attends a gallery opening and is approached by Drew Campbell about serving as the manager of a new gallery, she disregards the warning signs indicating that the offer is too good to be true. Campbell represents the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous and hands-off, but Alice must showcase the work of his untalented lover. Still, Alice believes that she can make a success of the gallery, situated in the trendy Meatpacking District of Manhattan, by featuring other artists, as well.
However, Alice’s career is again cut short when the artist is accused of peddling child pornography, a right-wing Christian group begins picketing the gallery, and a media storm ensues. On the morning that she is to meet Campbell at the gallery to discuss those complications, she instead finds his lifeless body on the gallery floor.
Meanwhile, a teenage girl has gone missing in Dover, New Jersey, and the detective assigned to the case is determined to find her, sparing her single mother the heartbreak of losing a child. And Hank Beckman is tailing the man he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death, even though his FBI superiors have warned him that his career will come to an abrupt and unceremonious end if he doesn’t back off.
Alice finds herself at the center of the police investigation into Campbell’s murder. The job offer was indeed too good to be true. Drew Campbell was a pseudonym, it seems that someone has been posing as Alice online and in person, and the missing girl has a peculiar connection to the gallery. Can Alice figure out who has set her up — and why — in time to save herself?
For patient readers, Long Gone delivers a big payoff. Three major story lines, along with some lesser threads, are launched at the outset. Numerous characters are introduced, including three local police detectives and an FBI agent; a missing teenage girl and her mother; Alice, her best friend, and Alice’s family that includes two Academy Award-winning parents. Initially, none of the plot lines appear to intersect. But in successive chapters, author Alafair Burke methodically and convincingly weaves the various characters and events into a cohesive, fast-paced thriller.
Alice Humphrey, thirty-seven, has never opted for the easy or obvious choice. But she had finally landed a job she loved with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Unfortunately, the job vanished when the economic downturn coincided with her insistence that her famously wealthy filmmaker father stop supporting her. When his generous donations to the museum dried up, so did her career. Out of work and determined not to turn to her family for help, she accepts the job offered by the elusive Drew Campbell without performing any due diligence, even though she instinctively knows there is much more to the story than Campbell reveals. Soon she wishes that she had been more cautious, but it is too late. Campbell is dead and the police are questioning her about a photograph of a woman who looks exactly like her. And there is other evidence quickly mounting against her. Who can she trust? And how will she ever be able to prove her innocence?
Burke’s legal prowess — she is a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former prosecutor, and currently a professor of criminal law and procedure — enables her to craft a complex tale, expertly knitting together strands of information and a wide array of characters. Hank Beckman is particularly compelling. Haunted by his sister’s demise after a con man took advantage of her, he is obsessed with his pursuit of justice, even though he knows that his career and pension are at stake. Alice is believable, if somewhat naive. But she has been sheltered by her parents’ wealth and power, and her desire to become independent makes her empathetic and her foolish choices forgivable. Alice’s brother, Ben, is a recovering addict who is behaving mysteriously and Alice is bent on finding out why, worried that he has begun to use drugs again. Meanwhile, Alice’s on-again, off-again attorney boyfriend comes to her aid, providing wise counsel, but she ultimately turns to her father’s long-time attorney and friend for guidance. As the story progresses, Alice — and readers — wonder who, if anyone, is motivated purely by love and loyalty.
Burke provides myriad clues along the way, but the mystery is not revealed until the very end, holding reader interest. The dialogue is crisp and authentic both as the story’s locales (Manhattan and New Jersey) and the various characters, but particularly those in law enforcement. The result is a gripping, contemporary and very entertaining adventure that takes a look at what money and influence can and cannot buy, as well as how one’s choices can have long-term and unforeseen consequences. This was my first experience reading Burke’s work, but it definitely won’t be my last! I highly recommend Long Gone.