In 2004, Maura Murray went missing. Her car hit a snow bank in rural New Hampshire. A passerby offered to help and she said she had already called for roadside assistance. The good Samaritan went home, just a few yards up the road, and called the cops anyway. When police arrived seven minutes later, her car was abandoned, with no footprints leading away from it. Maura Murray has never been heard from since — at least not publicly.

James Renner is a journalist and writer who finds himself without a job. He had outed a local politician and his weekly decided to fire him, rather than back up his reporting. He sued and settled, but found himself at loose ends. He turned to true crime, investigating as a journalist. He latched on to the case of Maura Murray. It was simple in its plot points but still very much a mystery. And it being recent meant there would still be plenty of people to talk to.

He launches an investigation, at his own expense, and starts posting findings and questions on his blog. He gathers a cadre of devotees who help track down leads. He seeks out family members, cops, neighbors, classmates and more for interviews. Then he tries on various theories for size. He even has a fairly plausible one in the end.

Ammonoosuc River in Littleton, New Hampshire, USA. Wikimedia Commons.

Much like The Fact of a Body, the book is partly memoir. Renner reveals his own struggles with obsession, depression, addiction and even some family skeletons in the closet. He does some dumb things, and he owns up to it.

By the time I got back to the car, an hour and a half later, I was in tears from the exertion of the hike. Such a stupid thing to do, alone. If I had slipped on a boulder, broken an ankle, nobody would have heard my screams.

We forget how dangerous nature can be. We want to forget, I think. We don’t want to be reminded that nature if more deadly than man. Man can be cruel, but nature is indifferent. It is the unrivaled psychopath.

I needed to be smarter about this investigation. I was already taking stupid risks, and I hadn’t even really begun. ~Pg. 66

This book is written in a jaunty, conversational style that makes it a quick read. At the outset, Renner’s tone comes off as arrogant and even a bit off-putting, but when life slaps back, it changes and is more engaging. The reader finds it easy to be swept up in the unsolved puzzle of it all, make connections and maybe even come up a theory of their own.

Put this on your vacation reading list.

My thanks to Isabella and James at Picador for the review copy.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (June 6, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250113814
ISBN-13: 978-1250113818
Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches