A woman falls for a charmer with a suspicious past in “What’s Become of Her,” by Seattle author Deb Caletti.
“What’s Become of Her”
by Deb Caletti
Bantam Books, 355 pp., $16
Seattle author Deb Caletti revisits wounded-woman-in-peril territory with her new psychological thriller, “What’s Become of Her.”
As in 2013’s “He’s Gone,” the protagonist bears the scars of an abusive relationship and is drawn to a charmer with a killer smile who morphs into a control freak.
Isabelle, a sensible, people-pleasing good girl whose “acts of rebellion occur mostly in her head” leaves her book-editing job in Seattle when she inherits her mother’s seaplane business in the San Juan Islands. She is licking her wounds after divorcing a “moody baby-man” when she meets Henry, who has rented a beach house as a writing retreat.
Henry is an East Coast academic, complete with a sweater with elbow patches, with an Edgar Allan Poe fixation. He makes romantic dinners — and his past includes a fiancée who fell off a cliff while they were hiking and a wife who disappeared while they were sailing. He’s been cleared by the police and swears his innocence. Isabelle is soon under his spell, and they move in together, despite the concern of her surrogate family at the seaplane company, including a tough-cookie office manager and a sweet pilot Isabelle dated in high school.
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But the biggest red-flag waver is the voice of Isabelle’s dead mother, Maggie, whom she loves and misses, despite their complex relationship. Every decision that draws Isabelle closer to Henry, there is Maggie with exclamations such as, “What the hell, Isabelle? What the hell? … Stupid, stupid.” Formidable Maggie had a quick temper she unleashed on Isabelle, whose meekness is a manifestation of her inner cowering child.
And though much is made about how Isabelle’s background has made her susceptible to a manipulator like Henry, the impulse to yell at her like a horror-movie victim going down the basement stairs is hard to resist. But patience is rewarded, as the suspense intensifies in the book’s second half, which features a terrific twist.
The action in “What’s Become of Her” alternates between the Pacific Northwest and, improbably but winningly, Noumea, New Caledonia, in the South Pacific. From a crow-research facility there, Professor Weary — who knew Henry’s wife, Sarah, a fellow ornithologist — stalks Henry via the internet, filled with a chilling fury and righteous indignation at Sarah’s disappearance.”
In “What’s Become of Her,” Caletti is at her best in Weary’s prickly skin, “plotting the downfall of Mr. Marvelous” and finding solace in his beloved subjects. Weary “comforts himself with thoughts of Raven, who made the world. Not Poe’s annoying bird, but Raven, capital R, honored by so many ancient people — Greeks, Hindus, Natives, Celtics, Norse, more … Raven created the world, but he created humans, too, and through trickery and seduction and honest concern — yes, actual care — provided them with fire and rivers and food, and even taught them how to make love. He created death, but also carried their souls to the land of the dead.”