Missing, Presumed Dead, Emma Berquist (Greenwillow 978-0-06-264281-3, $17.99, 369pp, hc) May 2019.
In the opening pages of Emma Berquist’s suspenseful mystery Missing, Presumed Dead, readers learn that there is a growing epidemic of young adults vanishing in Los Angeles. The most recent one works with Lexi at a nightclub named Elysium. Lexi is concerned about Marcus, but she has bigger things to worry about than what might have happened to him. Lexi’s main problem is that she is losing her mind and the only way to keep her fragile hold on the world is by periodically checking into a psychiatric facility and getting drugged into oblivion by medical professionals. While she’s there she always gets a little therapy from a long dead psychiatrist, which makes sense because Lexi can see and talk to dead people. That’s still not the big problem, though. The big problem is how Lexi interacts with the living. If she touches someone she learns when and how they are going to die, sees the whole thing in a flash in full-color detail. This foresight is not a gift, however; it’s a nightmare that is making our protagonist lose her mind.
Based on the premise, what readers will expect is for Berquist to make her novel all about Lexi, which would be plenty interesting (albeit a tiny bit reminiscent of The Sixth Sense). But Missing, Presumed Dead is a mystery at its heart and while a detective typically propels the action in this genre, readers still need a compelling crime to solve plus a potential victim or two to keep their attention. That’s where the recently murdered Jane comes into Missing, Presumed Dead‘s plot, and what she has in common with Marcus and why she was at Elysium the last night of her life and what she’s going to do when she finds out about Lexi’s abilities are all very interesting things that readers are going to want to know more about. Berquist also adds a few more ghosts to the plot, some funny and some deranged, as Lexi tries to figure out what is going on in her city. Here’s a hint: someone very bad is on the loose and the missing are going to multiply unless Lexi and her gang of good ghosts can stop the carnage.
I am a big fan of traditional mysteries (shout out to Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious series if you are looking for something fantastic sans the ghosts), and I was concerned that the clue-finding in Missing, Presumed Dead would take a back seat to Lexi’s death-touch drama. But Sara Berquist understands how much plot matters, and she tosses plenty of reasonable red herrings about as Lexi and Jane try to figure out what is going on. The personalities are strong among all of the characters, from Lexi’s desperate stoicism to Jane’s barely contained fury and the snarky humor of Trevor, Lexi’s ghost roommate. There are also the denizens of Elysium, many of whom have their own magical abilities, and Lexi’s curmudgeonly but sweet grandfather who understands all too well the burden she carries. As for romance, well, Berquist provides a dose of that as well (complicated as it might be), but it’s bloody murder that dominates most of these pages. Missing, Presumed Dead is a compelling mystery with a dynamic determined heroine and, personally, I’d enjoy seeing more adventures from this complicated crew in the future!
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the November 2019 issue of Locus.
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