Michael Frazier and his wife, Angela, are shocked to find his ex-wife, Erica, on their doorstep, claiming that her nine-year-old daughter, Felicity, has been kidnapped. She begs Michael to help search for the girl, announcing that Michael is the child’s father. Michael has no way to quickly ascertain whether Erica is telling the truth, but feels compelled to join Erica in the search for a child he has always wanted and could be his . . . but he never knew existed.
As the hunt for Felicity continues, Michael and Angela inch closer to the truth. But their marriage hangs in the balance, as do Michael’s relationships with his mother and sister. Lies spanning a decade are revealed. Michael and Angela must decide who they can trust . . . and who is hiding the truth.
Somebody’s Daughter moves at a relentless pace from the moment the story opens on a quiet, otherwise uneventful evening at 8:16 p.m. Michael Frazier and his wife, Angela, are shocked to find his ex-wife, Erica, on their doorstep, claiming that her nine-year-old daughter, Felicity, has been kidnapped. She begs Michael to help search for the girl, announcing that Michael is the child’s father. Angela has been under the impression that neither Michael nor any member of his family has remained in touch with Erica during the decade since their divorce, and she is stunned that Erica would turn up making such a claim. Michael knows that he and Erica continued their physical relationship right up to the point that their marriage broke up, so Erica could be telling the truth. If she is, and the child he has never known is missing, his conscience won’t permit him to refuse Erica’s desperate plea. Promising that he will be back soon, he leaves with Erica. And leaves Angela with myriad questions about the life she has established with Michael. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive a child and author David Bell compassionately portrays Angela’s emotional journey of self-doubt, jealousy, and uncertainty about the future if, in fact, Felicity is Michael’s daughter.
Throughout the night, the police search for the child, as do Michael and Erica. Angela also gets involved, not only because she is unable to simply sit at home and do nothing, but because she, Michael, and Erica are, of course, questioned by police. At which point Angela learns that Michael has not been completely forthcoming with her . . . and the first seed of doubt about their marriage is planted.
Bell deftly draws readers into the frantic search for the child as the hours tick by. Michael’s mother, Gail, becomes aware of the situation and reveals details about Erica’s life in the years since Michael ended their marriage that further cause Angela to question the foundations of her marriage. Erica’s menacing former boyfriend also arrives on the scene.
Meanwhile, Detective Erin Griffin and her partner, Jim Twitchell, are assigned to the case. Griffin is recently divorced. She also miscarried a child. Her intuition inspires her to follow clues that other members of the police force discount. In particular, her misogynistic colleagues accuse her of being overly emotional and relating too deeply to the case. She is appropriately outraged and offended — but undeterred and empowered to put her investigative prowess to work no matter the consequences.
He wondered how any parent bore the burden of losing a child. He’d seen the toll it took on his parents over the years, his father’s inability to even say Robyn’s name until the day he died. The pictures of Robyn that went into a closet, the fragility and protectiveness that his parents displayed. Michael wouldn’t have wished it on his worst enemy.
As the long night wears on and Felicity remains unaccounted for, Angela learns truths about Michael and his family that bring into question everything and everyone she has trusted. Bell plausibly and empathetically shows Michael’s family to be more deeply and profoundly troubled by the death many years ago of his younger sister, Robyn. Each family member carries regret and dark secrets that have impacted them, as well as their relationships with each other. While Bell reveals Erica’s struggles as a single mother — and her behavior in reaction to those challenges — to have been deeply troubling on occasion, which adds to the mystery surrounding Felicity’s disappearance, even though those aspects of the story are not explored in detail.
With Somebody’s Daughter, Bell, author of Bring Her Home and Since She Went Away, has again crafted an intense, compelling mystery in which virtually every character is a suspect — and for good reason. The deeply flawed characters are both believable and sympathetic. Bell injects clues to Felicity’s fate at expertly-timed intervals that move the story forward and, in due course, eliminate suspects until the tension gradually builds to a shocking conclusion. Readers will be unable to put Somebody’s Daughter down. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Bell could opt to resolve the tale in a variety of tenable ways. The conclusion he ultimately provides is well-reasoned and, overall, emotionally satisfying, if a bit rushed and lacking complete resolution of all story details. Nonetheless, Somebody’s Daughter is thoroughly enjoyable.
Excerpt from Somebody’s Daughter
Tuesday, 8:16 p.m.
The doorbell rang shortly after eight o’clock.
The doorbell almost never rang. Certainly not so late in the evening.
From the kitchen, Michael heard the scrape of silverware against plates, the opening and closing of the refrigerator as Angela put the leftovers away in preparation for Michael doing the dishes. It was their usual, long-agreed-upon routine for nights when she cooked.
Then the doorbell rang. At first the sound was so small, so distant and surprising, that Michael decided he’d imagined it. An auditory hallucination. Maybe two glasses clanked against each other in the kitchen, and he just thought it was the doorbell.
But then the bell rang again. Two times in a row. An insistent ringing, a sound that said someone outside meant business about getting their attention.
Angela appeared in the kitchen doorway. Her hair was pulled back off her face, and she held her hands away from her body as though they were wet or dirty.
“Who is that?” she asked.
“I’m not expecting anyone.”
“Can you get it? My hands are dirty.”
“I’ve got it,” Michael said. He looked at his watch. Eight sixteen. “Probably a kid selling something.”
“A determined kid, apparently,” Angela said as the bell chimed again. She smiled. “They must know who they’re dealing with.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael held back a laugh as he said it. He knew exactly what Angela meant.
“They know you’re an easy mark,” she said. “You always buy from them. Candy bars, magazines. They love you.”
“Should you go answer, then?” he asked. “You can be the bad cop, and I’ll watch baseball.”
“I don’t mind what you do,” she said, smiling wider. “I like that these kids know how to push your buttons.”
“Admit it. You don’t mind eating the chocolate I buy.”
Michael started for the door.
“Hey,” Angela said, stopping him. “Did you call your sister yet?”
“Don’t forget, okay? This is a big deal. Lynn’s coming up on five years cancer free.”
“I know, I know. You sent flowers, right?”
“Yes. But you still need to call. It will mean a lot to her.”
“I will. I promise.”
Michael felt light as he walked to the front of the house. He looked forward to watching some of a baseball game or maybe reading a book. He felt encouraged as he reflected on the continued good news about Lynn’s health. Next week, he and Angela were going away, a trip to St. Simons Island, just the two of them. Summer was good. Languid. Less work. If they relaxed more, if they got the time away, maybe they’d finally have luck in their ongoing struggle to have a child.
If not, he wasn’t sure how things would play out. He and Angela were both feeling the strain, the weight it was adding to their marriage. He hated that sex had become a chore, a duty to be performed with the specific goal of producing a baby. Michael so wanted to get back to normal.
Michael entered the foyer and opened the front door. The sun was dropping, the horizon orange and hazy with the heat that brushed across his face. Someone was grilling, the rich odor of sizzling meat reaching his nostrils.
It took him a moment to comprehend the reality of the figure on his porch. She paced from one side to the other, a cigarette in her mouth, arms crossed.
He couldn’t find the words. He didn’t know the words.
So he just said, “What the hell?”
She stopped pacing, removed the cigarette. She looked scared, haunted. Her eyes wide and flaring. “I need you, Michael. I need your help.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you even here?”
She took a step toward him, gesturing with the hand that held the burning cigarette. Michael caught a whiff of the smoke, leaned back as the cigarette came closer to his body.
She dropped it on the porch. The ash sparked as it hit the ground.
“I just need your help, Michael.”
“You need to back up, Erica. You need to-you need to leave.”
“Michael. My daughter. Someone kidnapped my daughter this morning.”
“What is it, Michael?” Angela called from the kitchen. “Chocolate? Magazines?”
“I’ve got it,” Michael said, his voice hollow and barely audible.
Michael moved onto the porch, pulling the door shut behind him. Erica stepped back, allowing Michael room. She started digging in the pocket of her jeans, which were dark and fitted, and brought out more cigarettes. While she shook one loose from the pack and flicked her thumb against the lighter, Michael took her in, observing the changes ten years had etched on his ex-wife. Some lines had formed around her eyes, some skin hung looser beneath her chin, but her shoulder-length hair showed no gray, and the cut looked more stylish and professional than the messy ponytail she had preferred in college. Michael noticed the gray Apple Watch on her wrist, the smartphone tucked in her pocket.
She looked like a grown-up. An adult. And the difference was striking.
She took a long drag on the cigarette and blew the smoke away from Michael. “You never liked this habit. I’d given it up until about twelve hours ago.”
“What do you mean, your daughter?” Michael asked. “You have a daughter? How old is she?”
Erica’s hand shook as she held the cigarette between her index and middle fingers. “Felicity. That’s her name. Felicity.”
“Your favorite show,” Michael said, remembering. Erica coming to his dorm room after class, sprawling across his bed, her shoes kicked off, catching reruns of Felicity. She loved to analyze and debate the character’s choices of men, wailed in distress when an episode played in which Keri Russell’s hair was cut short.
Michael remembered it all. The late nights with friends in college. The drinking and the partying. Their histrionic fighting and the ensuing make-up sex.
The day of their wedding. And also the day a year later when he left.
All of it so long ago. When he looked back on that time, he thought they had both acted like children.
“None of this makes sense, Erica. I haven’t seen you in ten years. I’m married.”
“You know? You can’t just show up at my door like this.”
“There’s a man.” She started pacing again, lifting the cigarette to her mouth, the tip glowing the same color as the sky while she dragged. “He’s a music teacher at her school. He’s odd. I think he liked her. Felicity. In an unhealthy way-you know? This man knows something.”
Her words became more and more clipped, her gestures more frantic as she spoke. Ash fell off the cigarette and hit the concrete porch. Even when things had been at their best between them-many days in college, the early months of their marriage-Erica tended toward exaggeration. She had always managed to turn even the smallest misunderstanding-either with him or with someone else-into an operatic blowup.
Michael reached out, placed a hand on her arm. “Stop, Erica. Just stop and slow down.”
She did. She looked at his hand where it held her arm near the crook of the elbow, his skin touching her skin for the first time in a decade.
Michael let go. But he said, “If someone you know is in trouble, you need to call the police. They can figure it out. I have to work tomorrow.”
Erica paused for a moment. She dropped the cigarette, ground it under her sneaker, a new running shoe, and scuffed her foot, leaving a smear of dark ash across the concrete. Erica had run cross-country in high school, jogged three to five miles a day in college, even on mornings after late nights of partying. She’d always been energetic, almost frantic when she did anything-walking, studying, talking, having sex. She looked at Michael as if he didn’t understand something fundamental. “The police are looking. They’ve been looking all day. Do you know what happens if they don’t find someone right away? Do you know what happens to the missing person? The child?”
“I’ve been talking to the police constantly, answering questions about me and my finances and my personal life and everyone I’ve ever known. Including you.”
“Everyone. Everything about my life. They look into everything when a child disappears. I’ve had to answer the most embarrassing questions. The most personal questions.”
Michael took a step back. He reached behind him, his hand fumbling for the doorknob. Baseball, he thought. A good book. Michael craved those things. And needed to get back to them.
To his real life. Not somebody else’s.
He saw a wasp’s nest in the corner of the porch, where a support post met the roof. He had been supposed to knock the nest down the weekend before, but he hadn’t, even though a wasp had managed to get inside and zip around the kitchen, throwing itself against the window above the sink until Angela swatted it with a magazine. The nest was bigger now. More wasps stirred, floated above their honeycombed dwelling. The odor of the cooking meat grew stronger as the wind shifted. The sky was transitioning from the day’s blue to the evening’s purple.
“You should go talk to them,” he said. “The police. Go back to them. Listen to them. Tell them whatever they want to know. You were never one to keep secrets, so tell them anything that might help. I’m just a guy you don’t know anymore. I can’t help you.”
Erica stared him down. While she did, her eyes filled with tears. She bowed her head, an exaggerated gesture like she was praying. The movement took him right back to their college days, to times she was upset and times they fought. In both the past and the present, the gesture reached something in Michael, summoning empathy and concern for the person before him. Erica could look so vulnerable at times, she seemed always to feel more deeply than anyone else. It hurt to look at her when she was in pain or distress.
And then she glanced up again, the tear-filled eyes meeting his. Her chin quivered.
“You have to help me, Michael. You have no real choice.”
Her tone of voice had shifted. Gone was the manic edge, the revved-up energy. Erica sounded shaken, scared.
She spoke again, her voice just above a whisper.
“She’s yours, Michael. Felicity is your daughter, and I need your help getting her back.”
“That’s not possible-”
The door opened behind Michael. His hand still rested on the knob as it moved, so he let go. It was Angela. She took in the scene with her lips parted, struggling to find something to say just as Michael had moments earlier.
Finally, Angela said, “Is something wrong, Michael?”
Erica stood with her hands on her hips, her chin thrust forward in a defiant posture. But she still had tears in her eyes.
Michael looked between the two of them, feeling a strange surge of embarrassment. He and Angela had once run into his high school girlfriend, Kayla McKee, whom he’d dated all during senior year. Michael had felt awkward then, fumbled through introductions in the middle of the grocery store, but Angela laughed about it on the way home, pointing out that Kayla had three kids in tow and another on the way. “She’s a breeder,” she’d said. “You could have had a whole litter with her by now.”
That was before their trouble having a child had grown more desperate. But Angela always talked freely of her former boyfriends and lovers, mentioned them as casually as she mentioned a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes from her past.
But she didn’t laugh on the porch, not when she saw Erica.
“Angela,” Michael said, “this is . . . Erica. My . . . I don’t think you’ve ever met.”
“Hi,” Angela said, nodding at Erica, her voice clipped. “It’s nice to meet you. We thought it was kids selling something.”
“I’m sorry, but I need to talk to him,” Erica said. “It’s important.”
“Michael, is everything okay?” Angela asked, hands on hips in an unconscious imitation of Erica’s posture.
“Can you just go back inside for a minute?” Michael asked. “I’m going to figure this out, and then I’ll be right in. I promise.”
“It’s getting late,” Angela said. She took one more long look, running her eyes the length of Erica’s body. Then turned to go back through the still-open door.
Michael knew what Angela meant. She was ovulating. They needed to try. That night. And likely again the next morning. They had a plan.
“I know you don’t like me,” Erica said to Angela. “You’ve made that very clear.”
Angela kept going, closing the door as she went inside.
Erica’s words stood out. They sounded like they referred to something more than the moment on the porch or the predictable distrust between two women who had dated-and then married-the same man. Michael started to ask about her words but stopped himself. He had more important things to figure out.
He remembered what she’d said just before Angela came outside.
She’s yours, Michael. Felicity is your daughter.
“Erica,” he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about or why you’re saying it, but we don’t have any children together. You know that. I’m not sure why you’re showing up here, trying to throw my life into chaos.”
Erica maintained her defiant posture. “We were having sex up until the end, Michael. Up until you left me. We weren’t always careful. You’d reach for me in the middle of the night. I don’t think either one of us was fully aware of what we were doing.”
“She’s ten years old?”
“And you never told me about her? Come on, Erica. That’s crazy.”
“Don’t do that, Michael. We’re not married, but you still can’t just act like I’m overreacting or hysterical. You’ve always done that, and it’s never been fair.”
Erica started fumbling in her pockets again. Michael thought she was reaching for another cigarette, but instead she brought out her shiny iPhone. She scrolled through, her finger swiping quickly, and then she turned the screen so Michael could see it.
A photo of a child. She was blond, like almost all the women in his family. Her cheeks were rosy, and in the photo, she stood in front of what looked like a barn, the red wooden boards cracked and peeling. A beautiful kid, yes.
“Don’t you see it, Michael?” Erica asked. “The resemblance.”
“She’s blond. Lots of people in the world are blond. They’re not all my kids. None of them are my kids.”
“Look closer. Zoom in.”
“Erica, I can’t even . . . I mean, we’ve been trying for two years, and the doctor says I may not be able to father a child. So how could this girl-”
Michael did as he was told. He remembered Erica’s determination, her iorn will once something entered her mind. He used his thumb and forefinger to zoom in on the girl’s face, the picture clear even as the light faded from the day. The action didn’t reveal any more to his eyes. He still saw a cute blonde girl on an outing to the country, her cheeks flushed from a long run or the cold wind.
“I don’t get it, Erica. A photo doesn’t prove anything.”
“Robyn,” Erica said. “Doesn’t she look a lot like Robyn?”
Excerpted from Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell. Copyright © 2018 by David Bell. Excerpt from Berkley Publishing Group. All right reserved.