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Book Author: Alafair Burke

LONG GONE by Alafair Burke: Book Review

Alice Humphrey has been unemployed for eight months, and she’s desperate for a job. Her career in the art world has been a rather undistinguished one, so when a chance meeting at a New York City art gallery produces a job offer from a charming stranger, she accepts despite the warnings of her best friend Lily.

Alice comes from a prominent, wealthy family, but not a particularly happy one.  Her father is an Oscar-winning director, her mother a former actress who also won an Oscar.  But their marriage has always been a rocky one, what with her father’s alcoholism and sexual affairs and her mother’s refusal to deal with anything that would disturb her life.  And Alice’s older brother, Ben, is a drug addict, perhaps recovering, perhaps not.

The gallery Alice has been hired to run will open under two conditions, according to Drew Campbell, the man who offered her the position. The first is that the man whose money is funding the gallery must remain anonymous; the second is that his young protegee must have a three week solo show of his photographs to open the gallery.  Alice is somewhat mystified by these conditions, but she agrees.  When she sees the photographer’s work she’s upset by his evident lack of talent, but she decides to make the best of it–after all, it’s only for three weeks, then she’s free to choose the art for the gallery.

But when the show opens, it’s picketed by the Reverend George Hardy of the Redemption of Christ Church because he says it’s showing pornographic photos of underage girls.  There’s nothing to be done, according to Alice’s call to the New York City’s 311, non-emergency, line; the picketers are entitled to express their First Amendment rights.

And two days later Alice gets a phone call from Drew, saying there are some problems and he has to see her the next morning at the gallery.  When she arrives and lets herself in, she trips over his corpse.

Alafair Burke does an excellent job of combining Long Gone’s various story lines. In addition to Alice’s problems, there’s the F.B.I. detective who has been following, against orders, the man he holds responsible for his sister’s death.  There’s also the teenage girl who’s gone missing from her New Jersey home.  When all three story lines converge, the entire picture becomes clear.  The sense of scene is excellent, whether the author is describing the Highline Gallery, named for the newly constructed High Line Park on the lower west side of New York City, or a suburban New Jersey high school filled with jocks and cheerleaders.

Alice Humphrey is a very appealing heroine. She’s led a protected, if not especially happy, life, cosseted by her family’s position and money.  She knows that her father’s money paid for her previous job, and now she’s very determined to make it on her own.  No more favors, thank you.

She been having an on-again, off-again romance for some time; at the moment it’s on, but there’s a very substantial stumbling block in the relationship just waiting for someone to trip over it.  Her relationship with her brother has its own difficulties.  He’s happy to talk against their parents, but he lives in a condo his father pays for and hasn’t had a real job for years.  And Alice’s fear of her brother’s drug use has added an additional emotional toll to every conversation they have.

Alafair Burke is also the author of two series; Long Gone is her first stand-alone. You can read more about her at her web site.