Haunting memories can often cloud your perception in the present a well-known counselor learns. Annalise Wood’s death is still a cold case and the killer has yet to be uncovered. Missing from the small town of Lilling Near Cambridge since 1976, her murder is still unsolved and even though her body was found in what appeared to be a shallow grave, the killer is still at large. But, some murders and victims are so spectacular and created such a stir that even in death Annalise is considered a celebrity and in the present someone wants to emulate her thinking it will make people adore her, admire her and create the same adoration that the real Annalise experienced thinking that her death was caused because of her beauty and someone wanted to own her for themselves. Annalise Williams is the subject at the start of this novel as the doctor that interviewed her and taped their session shares this girl’s thoughts, feelings and the fact that she is so enamored with the dead girl, jealous and seriously obsessed with becoming her in the present. When Annalise’s DNA is found on a skirt that she was wearing in her room, the police decide to reopen the case. As you hear the session and listen to Annalise Williams you realize that this young girl is seriously disturbed but she is not the only one who has memories of the real Annalise. Dr. Laurie Ambrose, a University, counselor, is the one sharing her tapes of these young girls with readers and yet at times she shares her memories with readers of her time with her late husband, Tom as she often talks to him hoping that his spirit will guide her to find the answers to unsolved questions and problems in the present. Annalise Williams is seriously disturbed, manipulative, crafty and possibly dangerous.
Detective Morris Keene has not become the lead investigator on this case after getting seriously injured, one hand practically inoperable or usable and moving to a different branch of the force because of it. Haunted by this case he includes former partner Chloe Frohmann on the investigation as they take a long hard view at this case. Chloe just had her first child and needs to figure out how to create time for her daughter and work. Morris is just getting back into the swing of things but each character presents his/her viewpoint about the case, the victim and how different their perceptions are of the primary suspect that they think they found after so many years. There are tapes that Laurie shares with the reader and when one of her patients, Hailey commits suicide she has feelings of guilt, recriminations and revisits the tape of her one session thinking she might have missed something. Charlie is the suspect and they face a trace on the body found in her skirt that did not match anyone until Charlie. But, till the present for some reason Annalise Wood is still in the forefront of many people in Lilling. Parents even named their daughter’s Annalise hoping that they too would receive the love and adoration she did when alive. Hannah Claire is impressionable, naïve and after one session with Laurie thinks she is cured since meeting Henry whom she thinks fell madly in love with her practically at first sight. She even relates how she had many different moms and her relationship to Annalise in the past.
Who is the real Annalise and why did Sandra/Anna want to take over her identity in the present? Each character falls prey to wanting to become part of the case and uncovering the truth behind what really happened to this girl. The characters are not warm even Laurie seems fixated with her late husband and often pushes her thoughts away from Simon talking only to Tom. As we get to uncover more about the case Morris seems to think that the body might not be that of Annalise and when Anna/Sandra is brutally injured and her cousin Hannah is killed or is it suicide different sides of Anna Williams comes to the forefront. Then we learn more about Blake, Laurie’s son and his relationship with Anna and claiming that Hannah’s husband beat her up in order to vindicate what she thinks he did to Hannah when in reality as you begin to unravel her warped thoughts and convoluted psychological and irrational reasoning behind her motives and movements you begin t wonder why Blake, Laurie’s son defends her even when she’s lied about him in relationship to what happened to her and the beating. Chloe Frohmann seems entrenched within this mystery and working with Morris brings back other memories from the past. Annalise Wood, Annalise Williams one in the same in someone’s mind and of course the kind of girl everyone wants to be there and take. Both Chloe and Morris delve deep inside their own fears and so does Laurie and each one needs to realize that they are more than just spectators in the live of Annalise Williams and there are deceits, lies, misguided and characters are misdirected as the police plays a prominent role to an extent but the final revelation will shock readers.
Both Morris and Chloe along with Detective Inspector Spencer work together to unravel the truth behind what happened to Annalise Williams, Hannah Claire and Annalise Wood. Information comes to light but the final confrontations are illuminating as Cathy Rigg who is really Hannah’s real mother, Annalise/Sandra who has been jealous of her for too long, Nick Rigg who reveals something about his feelings for both girls and Rosalie his trusted secretary who might break it open and you won’t believe how. Annalise Williams blames everything on Hannah Claire and her death makes it easier for her to lie about Henry, lie about who beat her almost to death and hopefully bring some light and glory to her like the real Annalise got when she disappeared or died. But, Keene is bent on learning more and the ending will reveal what really happened to Annalise Wood, who killed Hannah and just who was buried in 1976. A family riddled with lies, betrayals, hate, revenge, jealousies and Dr. Laurie Ambrose who just wanted justice for Hannah, Annalise and the girl buried in a grave that no one knew was gone.
Rationalizing and justifying actions at the end you will hear the voice of one person who seems so intrigued with her own motives for what finally happened at the end and speaking out loud and listening to her own voice this person even thinks that the end justified the means. Believing that Henry Ware killed Hannah Claire, Annalise/Sandra set out to provoke him and create more violence hoping he would be arrested and jailed. The family dynamics is revealed by the author man times but in various ways as we try and connect the dots or the relationships before the final reveal of the murderer takes place. We hear the voices of Morris and Chloe as we try to piece together who pushed Hannah Claire into the river but why? As Laurie and Blake her son talk this over he refuses to listen to her logic and for some reason is taken with Annalise/Sandra but will he ever see through her deceptions and delusions?
Hearing and reading the words of Hannah Claire Finney the reader wonders why she communicated with Laurie Ambrose as she explains her relationship with Sandra and the fact that she was happy starting a life with Henry but was she blindsided and was she grasping at straws because she felt alone and had no real family that she latched onto Henry? Her emails sound as if she was trying to find a for herself and reminds us that she was married to Charlie and that not wanting to communicate with him even in the present. Her past still haunted her and you can hear it as you read her emails telling that she quit her job, could not find the right fit and began writing a children’s book using illustrations that she created. But, at the root of this mystery is a photo and the ending will reveal the significance. While Morris realized that he was no longer a police detective but worked for the review board, he still was quite involved in the final solution even though he was told to back off. Chapter 16 enlightens readers to the Hannah’s family dynamics, Sandra’s jealousy feeling not important and the reason why Hannah had to be expunged from the family and why someone wanted more than Hannah to be gone. The ending will surprise readers, as the least likely suspect is the one hiding the guilt right in front of you. The final chapter titled Annalise Williams will reveal a secret you won’t figure out and the harsh truth about Annalise Wood. Who killed Hannah? Who knows the truth about Annalise? Whose body was in the grave? Author Emily Winslow weaves an intrigue web of deceit, lies, deceptions and forks in many different directions until the final killer is revealed as they try to LOOK FOR HER!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine
Questions for the interview