That Summer Affair

by Sarah Challis


When schoolgirl Jodie Foot goes missing from a sleepy Dorset village, the shockwaves that reverberate through the small community are as far reaching as they are devastating. For Rachel Turner, Jodie’s disappearance causes her to question her marriage after routine enquiries reveal that her husband, Dave, lied about his whereabouts that evening. All Rachel has ever wanted is a happy home and a loving family, and now it’s about to be torn apart.

My first impression with this book was that the author had a good premise backed by good writing. The prose flowed smoothly and logically and was easy to read.

The story begins with the mundane life of Rachel Turner as she goes about her housekeeping chores. She learns from a neighbor that Jodie Foot never came home after school. It’s not a big deal, apparently because the girl is a bit of a wild child from an undisciplined household run by a single mother with several children.

But as the disappearance becomes more serious, each of the characters on the outside of the tragedy begins to examine their lives in relationship to what has happened. We are introduced to several of the occupants of the neighborhood, including a British ex-pat, now American, who has come back to visit for the summer.

Instead of focusing on the central inciting incident, the tragedy at hand, Ms. Challis focused on how the disappearance of Jodie Foot affects each of the secondary characters individually as they reflect on their lives. I liked the premise, but the execution was lacking.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how the story played out. I read a third of the way into the book before putting it down in frustration. In the part of the book that I did read, Ms. Challis circulates between each of the characters as they tell a story (their own story) and their perspective on the events that are surrounding them.

This could have been an interesting twist on a tired trope (someone disappears/is abducted, uninvolved neighbor is mysteriously drawn in by lies told by the spouse/child/friend who turns out to be directly involved in the inciting incident).

However, Ms. Challis seemed to get so wrapped up in the lives of her supporting characters, that the central tragedy becomes an afterthought. The lives of the neighbors are interesting and tragic in their own right, but what exactly does it all have to do with the disappearance of Jodie Foot?

Perhaps the story does circle back around to the main premise, but having to slog through a third of the book and still not being rewarded with any answers (or even any gut-wrenching mysteries surrounding the girl’s disappearance) made me feel like I was wasting my time.

It is very possible that all the threads of the disappearance, the neighbors lives, and those directly involved did come together later in the book, but honestly, I felt like I shouldn’t have had to read that far into the book to find out.