Tuesday, September 4, 2018


LEAVE NO TRACE by Mindy Mejia (Quercus, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later...the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

Mindy Mejia garnered global acclaim last year with her outstanding rural noir THE LAST ACT OF HATTIE HOFFMAN (the US version was entitled EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE), which was one of my top reads of 2017. Sometimes after a big hit like that, some authors struggle with their next book, so I was curious about and keen to read LEAVE NO TRACE on several fronts.

I needn't have worried; from the first pages, it's clear that Mejia hasn't suffered any sequel swoon. Not that this is a sequel, instead another compelling standalone tale set among rural Minnesota.

This is a terrific page-turner, with depth. A one-night kind of read that still has plenty of layers.

Ten years after a boy and his father vanish into the forest-rimmed lakes of the wild 'Boundary Waters' near Lake Superior, Lucas Blackthorn reemerges, a wild and violent young man. A ravaged campsite, perhaps evidence of a bear attack, had led most to think Lucas and his father Josiah were dead.

Speech therapist Maya Stark is tasked to giving voice to Lucas, and trying to uncover what he's been doing for the last decade. What happened to him and his father, and where is his father now?

His violent reintroduction to society sees Lucas become a celebrity patient at Congdon Mental Institution in Duluth, with Maya trying to cajole secrets from him in the very place she was hospitalised herself as a teenager. Lucas isn't the only one with a very troubled past. Two people who suffered as children and have plenty of secrets between them must learn to work together, even as all the rules seem to get in the way. Can Maya bring Lucas out, and what will happen if she does?

Mejia keeps a page-whirring pace while threading depth and a real sense of humanity into this tale. It's clear how much she loves the state she calls home, and particular its countryside wilder areas. She brings a really strong atmosphere to LEAVE NO TRACE - both in terms of place and the people who populate it. There are fresh turns of phrase and little touches that elevate the prose to a higher level without putting on the handbrake, coupled with keen insights into the messy relationships people can have with others, and themselves. A cracking good read from a talented author.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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