When Mitchell Brannon's beloved wife of twenty years kisses him goodbye one autumn morning, he has little idea that his life is about to change forever. Mitch returns from work early that evening, surprised Jill's car isn't in the garage. Her conference in Kansas City is only a few hours' drive from their little town of Sylvia, Missouri. But her voice on the answering machine makes him smile. "Hey, babe, I'm just now checking out of the hotel, but I'll stop and pick up something for dinner. Love you."
Mitch sets the table with their best china and lights some candles, looking forward to their first weekend as empty nesters.
But at eight o'clock, the candles have burned to stubs and Jill still hasn't shown up. Mitch tries her cell phone only to get her voice mail over and over again. Their two college kids haven't heard from their mom either.
At midnight, Mitch's irritation turns to dread. And later, when the police and Missouri Highway Patrol have turned up nothing, the Kansas City hotel calls to say they've found property belonging to Jill in a hotel maid's possession.
Mitch enlists the help of their next-door neighbor, Jill's best friend, Shelley, and together they search for clues to Jill's disappearance. As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, Mitch and Shelley's friendship grows ever closer--and decidedly complicated with Jill as the tie that binds them together. Just when Shelley decides to finally reveal her feelings for Mitch, a clue to Jill's whereabouts is uncovered. But every lead seems to be a dead end, and Mitch wonders how he can honor the vows he made to a woman who has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.
You'll drop off The Face of the Earth the minute you pick up this book because you won't be able to put it down to do anything else until you finish it. Raney does a superb job of drawing the reader into the story from the very first sentence, and the likable characters make this heart-wrenching mystery your own. Unlike some other books I've read this year, however, the drama and sadness is not so intense as to make the book unbearable. Raney strikes just the right chord when painting emotional pictures of the limbo experienced when a loved one goes missing and the serenity one must project when around other people.
The only element I didn't like was a small piece of the romantic dance between Mitch and Shelley. At one point it felt as if they were having the same should we/shouldn't we conversation over and over; I understood their conundrum and wanted to find out the resolution already, but I understand why Raney wrote it as she did. Such a complex issue wouldn't be resolved overnight and would take time and repeated conversations to work through.
Raney ended the book perfectly. While perhaps other endings might be somewhat more realistic, nothing else could complete this work of romantic fiction with quite the same element of satisfaction.
This is one fascinating story.
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Deborah Raney is the award-winning author of several novels, including "A Nest of Sparrows" and the RITA award winning "Beneath a Southern Sky" and its sequel, "After the Rains". Deborah's first novel, "A Vow to Cherish", was the inspiration for World Wide Pictures' highly acclaimed film of the same title, which in December 2004 aired on prime time network TV for the second time. Deb's novella, "Playing by Heart", was a National Readers Choice Award winner and a 2004 Christy Award finalist. Her novel for Howard/Simon & Schuster, "Yesterday's Embers", appeared on the ECPA Christian fiction bestseller list. Known for her sensitive portrayal of family struggles and relationships, Deb has also written nonfiction books and articles and often speaks at women's retreats and writers' conferences around the country. She and her husband, illustrator/author Ken Raney, have four children and make their home in Kansas.
I received a free copy of The Face of the Earth from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.