“The One that Got Away” by Joe Clifford starts with a terrifying prologue, a girl locked underground, and then moves to “now” centered around Alex Salerno, the girl who got away from a killer. Alex tells herself that she has moved on from her traumatic experience, but she really has not. Holes in her memory form Swiss-cheese excerpts of the past, and the terror always comes back. She has returned to Reine, her hometown into in Upstate New York town because a reporter wants to tell her story again. The reporter, Noah Lee, promises that the focus will be on her, her struggle, her victory, the one good thing she has done with her life: she has survived. The narrative centers on Alex as she struggles to finally over come her own trauma. She is also troubled by unanswered questions in the murder of another girl from Reine, and the possibility that Benny Brudzienski, the person who was accused of her murder, is innocent. Is there a conspiracy? Benny Brudzienski is institutionalized, incapacitated, and yet has secrets to share.
Clifford skillfully creates characters that are flawed, human, and compelling. Alex is at the same time helpless and forceful, haunted and liberated, and always truth seeking. Readers fear for her safety and applaud her determination. Is there a killer roaming free, or is Alex only hearing what she wants to hear? The town, Reine, barren and empty, is as much of a character as is Alex. Readers sense the malevolent curse that hangs over the town, harming everything and everyone.
The haunting trail of clues leads to a startling truth in the end. This book will keep readers turning the pages and yet fearing what might come next. I was given a copy of “The One That Got Away” by Joe Clifford, Down & Out Books, and NetGalley. Readers will not soon forget this book.