ABOUT THE BOOK:It's a busy day at the bakery Maeve Conlon owns when she receives a phone call from the high school saying Maeve's employee's daughter, Taylor Dvorak, is ill. Taylor's mom is out on a delivery and Taylor has her own car, so harried Maeve gives the school nurse permission to send Taylor home on her own. But Taylor never makes it: Somewhere between the school and her house, she just vanishes.
Not only does Maeve feel responsible, but she can't shake the feeling that there's more to Taylor's disappearance than meets the eye. So Maeve decides to take matters into her own capable hands. She finds that Farringville has a lot more to hide than most small towns, from the secretive high school girls' soccer coach to Taylor's estranged father and her troubled mother, and she gets to work shining a light on all these mysteries.
Balancing this dark undertaking and her relationship with a local policeman, Maeve will have to walk the fine line between justice and revenge carefully if she hopes to prevail in the next suspenseful novel from Maggie Barbieri.
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At back-to-school night, Maeve learned that every other student in Heather's senior class either aspired to or was definitely going to go to Cornell.
But mostly Cornell.
The graduating class four years hence would be busting with students from Farringville High School, if their parents had anything to say about it.
There was nothing lower than a semi-Ivy on the list, with her older daughter's school, Vassar, making the list with three or four students applying; she lost count after a while, her mind going elsewhere. All of the applications would go out soon and be "early decision" or "early action," a student's acceptance a binding commitment on the former. Maeve started to sweat. Heather had shown no interest in writing her application essays, culling her list of schools, or signing up for the retake of the SAT.
"Leave me alone!" was the oft-used response to Maeve's inquiries regarding anything having to do with college. That and a door slam.
When it was her turn to tell the guidance counselor, running a session at back-to-school night about the college process, about Heather's plans, Maeve lied. She wasn't sure why, but she did.
"Cornell, too," she said, looking at the mother of one of Heather's more academically focused classmates, who returned an affirming nod, "and maybe some schools out west."
The guidance counselor, an older woman on her way out the door after this year, her retirement date looming, looked at Maeve expectantly. "Such as?"
The lies came easier this time. "UCLA. Berkeley." Maeve felt like a Jeopardy! contestant presented with a category on the mating habits of lemurs; after that list, she was almost out of schools. She almost said "Gallaudet" before remembering that the school catered to deaf students, and Heather definitely wasn't deaf; Maeve knew that because her daughter often told her that her voice was "ear-piercing." Drama, thy name is Heather Callahan. "Johns Hopkins," Maeve said finally, remembering too late that that wasn't in the West but in the mid-Atlantic region, south of where she lived in the Hudson Valley.
The guidance counselor continued to look at her, and in that look, Maeve saw the question: Are we talking about the same girl? It was clear that Mrs. Demke had met Heather and knew that she didn't have a clue about where to go, what to study, or how to execute a plan to get into college, despite having more of an interest just months before.
Maeve wasn't sure what had happened to change Heather's desire to get out of Farringville by any means necessary, college being the likely choice for escape, but over the summer, something had imbued her with a deep apathy for the college process. Maeve's oldest, Rebecca, had tackled the job of finding and getting into a college with a zeal that Maeve envied. She had been ready for the next step and the challenges that came with it, and despite telling her sister repeatedly what a great thing it was, going to college, being away, Heather had sunk into some kind of black hole about the whole thing, staring at Rebecca as if she had lost her mind.
Did she now want to stay in Farringville? Maeve wondered about that and shuddered at the thought, even though when Heather left, she would be alone. Heather's former boyfriend — someone Maeve had hated with the passion of a thousand burning suns — was gone from the picture. Maybe his disappearance from her life had Heather in an emotional free fall that hadn't ended yet. Maeve decided that as she did with most things, she would wait it out. Be patient.
The litany of superior schools was interrupted by one comment that fell into the category of attainable. Reasonable. Maeve looked over at the mother who proclaimed that her daughter would go to "whichever state university takes her and gives her money" and smiled. The mother smiled back, pleased with the hush that fell over the room at her revelation that her daughter was average and that she had limited funds for education. Maeve found that refreshing. She recognized the mother as Trish Dvorak, someone she had known better when the girls were small, before she had started her business and thrown herself into it full-time and without rest.
The guidance counselor, at a loss in the face of such averageness and honesty, hastily went through her PowerPoint slides and concluded with a question-and-answer period that quickly became specific to each parent's child and his or her chances of getting into his or her dream school with a varying number of Advanced Placement classes.
At the end of the session, Maeve left the room and walked down the hallway that housed the trophies from years past, the glory days of Farringville High School and its student athletes, mostly from the sixties, when the football team was huge and no one really cared about the lasting effects of concussions. Farringville now had a football program that was on its last legs, its punter a kid who'd never held a football prior to being recruited to the team but who exhibited some impressive high kicks during the spring musical, Oklahoma.
At the end of the hallway in a large open area, tables were set up, one asking parents to join the PTA, another selling tickets to the fall drama, and another with a sign showing down-on-their-luck children in Mississippi with the plea PLEASE HELP. Two male students stood behind the table taking donations.
"Ma'am, can you help?" one of them called out, a tall, handsome boy in pink Bermuda shorts and a bright green polo, a little out of sync sartorially with the rest of the Farringville High students, who tended, Maeve had observed, toward the hipster look more than the preppy look. An older man stood off to the side, watching carefully as people approached the table and the kid made his pitch.
Maeve knew that she had an empty wallet because she always had an empty wallet. "Sorry, guys," she said. "I didn't bring any money." That was one way to put it, far less pathetic than "I don't have any money right now."
The shorter of the two, a kid who looked like an older version of one of Heather's preschool classmates and probably was, walked around from behind the table and handed her a pamphlet.
"We're raising funds to go to Madison, Mississippi. A very poor town," he said. "We're building a school."
"And we'll have a table at Founders Day if you want to donate then," the taller one said, flashing a smile. "We don't leave for another eight months."
"Starting early?" Maeve asked.
"Yes," the shorter one said. "It costs each one of us over one thousand dollars to go and spend the week there, so we're trying to raise some money so we can cut that cost a little bit."
Maeve thought of Heather at home, sulking in her room, the thought of building a school for Mississippi children the furthest thing from her mind. "Is the trip full?" Maeve asked. "Can other students go if they want?"
They looked at each other.
Maeve walked closer to the table. "I'm Heather Callahan's mom. I'm asking on her behalf." Might do the girl good, Maeve thought. Maybe her home life wouldn't seem so terrible if she was doing something for someone other than herself.
The preppy kid held out his hand. "I'm Jesse Connors. And this is Tim Morehead. Tell Heather to come find us if she's interested in going. We'll give her all of the details."
Maeve shook both of their hands. "I will. Thanks. And if you want a donation, come by The Comfort Zone. If I'm not there, I'll leave an envelope."
The older man came forward. "Thank you very much," he said, holding out his hand. "Charles Connors."
"Whatever you can give will go a long way toward making this trip a reality," he said. He pointed to the kid in the Bermuda shorts. "It was my son's idea. To give back to a less fortunate community."
Maeve thought of the cluster of broken-down double-wide trailers that sat on the east end of town, and of the school lunch program that had been in effect for kids who couldn't even afford to bring their own lunch, and one of her late father's old sayings jumped into her brain: Charity begins at home. After the closing a few years earlier of one of the bigger businesses in town, a stonecutting yard that had been in existence for over a hundred years, Farringville had become a town of the haves and have-nots.
Maeve folded the brochure and put it in her back pocket. Regardless of her feelings, they were the nice kids, the good kids, the ones she wanted Heather to be around and to socialize with, not the crowd with which she currently ran. That crowd was looking for the next party, the next reason to be rowdy, not a way to help people half a world away. Where had she gone wrong as a mother? she wondered as she wended her way through the throngs of people in the school, the din of their excited chatter bouncing off the institutional cinder-block walls.
Trish Dvorak found Maeve in the cafeteria after the first session of the night. "Do these people really think that every kid is going to go to Cornell?" she asked, surveying the cookies and slices of cake that had been put out on a table next to a big coffee urn.
"Or Harvard?" Maeve asked, handing her a macaroon from The Comfort Zone.
"Delicious," Trish said after taking a bite. "How do you do what you do all day and stay so thin?"
"Not so thin," Maeve said, grabbing the hunk of flesh that sat above the waistband of her jeans. "But I'm on my feet all day, so I suspect that burns a bunch of calories. I do eat a lot of cake," she said, smiling. "So Taylor is going to a state university?" she asked.
"That's the hope," Trish said. She herself was rail thin, her clavicles poking out from beneath the striped T-shirt she was wearing, skinny jeans on her thin legs. "Her father isn't contributing toward the tuition, so it's a SUNY, financial aid, and hopefully some kind of merit package." Trish took another macaroon. "He's a douchebag, in case I didn't make that clear."
Maeve raised an eyebrow. She thought of her own ex as a lot of things but would never verbalize them in polite society, and in particular on back-to-school night. "Some ex-husbands are."
"Oh, we were never married. And he barely acknowledges that she's his, so I've kind of given up," Trish said. "Shocking, right?"
Maeve put another cookie in her mouth. People sleeping with ex-husbands shouldn't throw stones or live in glass houses or ... whatever. She wasn't sure so she stayed silent.
"State schools are a lot harder to get into now because everyone has realized what a great deal they are," Trish said.
Maeve knew Taylor from soccer, but barely; she had played with Rebecca. She knew Trish worked several jobs and hadn't seen her at many games. But she knew nothing about her academically. Hell, she knew next to nothing about her own daughter academically and held her breath every time a progress report came in the mail. There was a school for everyone, right? That's what the guidance counselor had said.
"I'm sure it will work out," she said, grabbing a cup for coffee. Trouble was, no decaf. She'd be up all night if she had coffee this late. That was another side effect of being in her forties, and not one of the welcome ones. Hell, what were the welcome ones? She didn't have enough time to spend thinking up what they might be.
"I haven't seen you in ages, Maeve," Trish said. "When was the last time we really spoke? The Museum Village trip? Third grade?"
"Probably," Maeve said, wondering why Trish had decided to let her know about Taylor's father now instead of back then when they had spent real time together, trying desperately to keep a group of little kids from wandering off. "Or maybe Ellis Island in eighth grade? Wasn't that the one where Heather split her lip open?"
Trish nodded. "Yes."
"You were so nice to her," Maeve said. "I remember that you were the only mom who had Neosporin in your pocketbook."
"Always prepared," Trish said. "Former Girl Scout."
"I remember having a purse full of cookies. And old receipts. But you? A whole medical kit," Maeve said, laughing. She tipped the coffeepot; three drops of coffee fell into her cup. "What's our next session?" she asked, looking at the clock and seeing they had five minutes to get where they needed to go.
"Tips on How to Pay for College," Trish said, laughing. "I wonder if one of the tips is 'rob a bank'?"
Maeve was lucky; Cal had started college funds the day each girl had been born, and though the price of college escalated faster than he could save, he paid for any shortfall himself.
Maeve was on the hook for the meal plans, according to their agreement, and that was enough to shoulder financially. She looked at Trish. Sure, there was financial aid, and maybe there would be merit money, but it seemed like it would be a stretch anyway. "Trish, I hope I'm not out of line here, but I'm looking for someone —"
"Yes," Trish said.
"You don't even know what I'm going to ask you," Maeve said.
"I need a job, Maeve. I was just too embarrassed to ask," Trish said. "That's why I came over here. I don't care if you need someone to wash dishes all day. I need to do something. I lost my job taking care of the Lorenzo kids. Do you know them?"
Maeve did. She might have been the reason that Trish lost her job, the father of the two children she had taken care of being someone Maeve had taken care of herself. In her mind, she had committed a public service that night a couple of years before.
Trish continued. "Terrible thing that happened back at the dam. Not sure you remember. The dad died."
"Yes. I remember," Maeve said, an image of his eyes as he went over the railing, the belief in them that he would make it until about three-quarters of the way down and then the realization that the choice he had made — to take his chances — had been the wrong one. Rather than feel sadness at that, Maeve felt happy and resisted the urge to let a little smile break out on her face. As she got older, it was getting harder and harder to act, to make believe that she was sad when bad people died, people others didn't know the truth about.
Lie in Plain Sight by Maggie Barbieri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Lie in Plain Sight” By Maggie Barbieri
This series has been one of the more interesting I’ve discovered in a long while, mainly because the first book, where we are introduced to Maeve, a baker, turned amateur detective, is pretty much a standard mystery. I sincerely liked Maeve, but was thrown off balance by her sudden descent into the dark side in book two.
As “Lie in Plain Sight” opens, we find Maeve still dealing with the events that took place in the previous installment, and we catch her in the act of making a disappointing mistake.
However, when a local teen goes missing, Maeve inserts herself into the investigation, while trying to run her busy bakery, jostle her complicated love life, and deal with her hostile teenage daughter, Heather.
Maeve’s focus on the missing persons case, while a little obsessive, has given her a renewed sense of purpose, has sharpened her focus in regards to Heather, and her relationships with her ex-husband and boyfriend.
Small town secrets and lies always make for an interesting read, and with Maeve involved, it’s even more delicious, with just a pinch of dark humor on the side.
The author has put a darker spin on the amateur detective trope, and it has grown on me, with this installment being the strongest in the series. For Maeve, justice is justice, and her brand of it is controversial, but it does get the job done. However, I was thankful Maeve's disturbing thoughts tapered off, plus, she seems to have found a balance in her life, at long last.
These books should be read in order to fully enjoy all the nuances and I think those who have been following along will agree, that if this is indeed the end of the series, it ended on a very high note. 4 stars.
Reviewed by Julie Whiteley for Suspense Magazine
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