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It’s a joy to read this book.  Usually I don’t think mysteries need to be over 400 pages, and this one tips the scale at 530…but every page is necessary, with a tight plot and a beautifully portrayed cast of characters.

The novel opens with Alec Salter’s 50th birthday party.  He’s Charlotte’s husband, the father of their four children, and a mean-spirited philanderer.  He’s dismissive of his wife and their three sons, acting as a caring father should only to his teenage daughter.

Although the party begins at seven, Charlie (to use Charlotte’s nickname) hasn’t arrived, although it’s after that hour.  Etty, their fifteen-year-old daughter, gets more and more concerned as first the minutes tick by and then the hours.  Finally Etty goes home, hoping that her mother decided not to attend the celebration for some reason.  But she isn’t there, and in fact she’s never seen again.

There’s a town-wide search for Charlie, of course, diligently conducted by her friends and neighbors and less so by the local police who seem to believe that she left of her own free will.  To call their investigation lackadaisical or unprofessional would be polite; they apparently made up their minds early on that the missing woman would turn up in her own good time and didn’t want to spend any additional police time on it.

Then, two days after Charlie’s disappearance, Etty and Greg Ackerley, a neighbor, are continuing the search along the river that runs through the town.  Walking along the track, Etty sees something in the water.  It’s a body, but it’s not Charlie; it’s Greg’s father, Duncan Ackerley.

Again there is no in-depth investigation by the police.  Were Charlie and Duncan romantically involved?  Did she want to break it off and because of that he killed her?  Did he commit suicide because she was gone?  The local police keep changing their theories as to what happened, but there are no real answers.

When we meet the families again after 30 years, we learn how the disappearance of Charlotte Salter affected each of her children and her husband.  As you might imagine, things have not gone well for them emotionally, although each one is trying his/her best to lead a meaningful life.  But the weight of not knowing what happened to their mother, and their secret belief that perhaps she is not dead after all, has left an indelible scar on each one.  And as for Alec, Charlie’s husband, perhaps the reader might be forgiven for thinking that his current situation is just punishment for his past behavior.

This husband and wife writing team consists of Sean French and Nicci Gerard, and after eight outstanding mysteries featuring Frieda Klein, a London-based psychotherapist, they have written more than a dozen stand-alone novels.  I read and enjoyed the Klein novels but wasn’t familiar with their stand-alones until this one.  Not surprisingly, their brilliant plotting and characterizations are evident in Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?

You can read more about the authors at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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