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Mystery Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Felicity McLean (2019)

We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song, and when one came back, she wasn't the one we were trying to recall to begin with. - Felicity McLean, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

The fiction debut of Australian journalist Felicity McLean, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone tells the story of the disappearance of the three Van Apfel girls - Hannah, Cordelia, and Ruth, through the eyes of their friend, Tikka Molloy. Tikka was eleven in the summer of 1992 when the girls disappeared from a school variety show. Now, many years later, she has returned home to visit her sister Laura, about to undergo cancer treatment. The unsolved mystery of the girls' disappearance still haunts her town, and particularly Tikka and Laura.

While Tikka is back in town, she reexamines her memories of the summer that the girls disappeared with Laura, her parents, and other neighbors, most notably a nosy former Tupperware saleslady. She finds that they all have slightly different interpretations and memories of what went on that summer. And the essential mystery remains unsolved: did the girls run away to escape their strict, evangelical father? Did a creepy teacher spirit them away? Did their father? Or could something else have happened to them?

McLean, likely pulling some elements from her own childhood in a bush suburb of Sydney, effortlessly evokes the feeling of a long, hot Australian summer, the feeling of being an eleven year old girl - not a teenager, but no longer a small child with only childish problems, and the frustrating, open-ended nature of an unsolved mystery.

Overall: Four Sherlocks. The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is beautifully written combination of coming-of-age story and mystery, and is perfectly suited to reading on a beach during your own long, hot summer. (Fair warning with spoiler alert: If you really need neatly tied up endings, this may not be the book for you.)

I received an advance copy through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbalanced review of this book.

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