All the Little Liars by Charlaine Harris is the 9th book in the Aurora Teagarden series (Available October 4, 2016).
Aurora Teagarden is basking in the news of her pregnancy when disaster strikes her small Georgia town: four kids vanish from the school soccer field in an afternoon. Aurora’s 15-year-old brother Phillip is one of them. Also gone are two of his friends, and an 11-year-old girl who was just hoping to get a ride home from soccer practice. And then there’s an even worse discovery—at the kids’ last known destination, a dead body.
While the local police and sheriff’s department comb the county for the missing kids and interview everyone even remotely involved, Aurora and her new husband, true crime writer Robin Crusoe, begin their own investigation. Could the death and kidnappings have anything to do with a group of bullies at the middle school? Is Phillip’s disappearance related to Aurora’s father’s gambling debts? Or is Phillip himself, new to town and an unknown quantity, responsible for taking the other children? But regardless of the reason, as the days go by, the most important questions remain. Are the kids still alive? Who could be concealing them? Where could they be?
With Christmas approaching, Aurora is determined to find her brother…if he’s still alive.
My cell phone rang about five o’clock. I noticed the time, because I’d been trying to imagine what we could have for dinner that night, and so far I hadn’t come up with anything. I was exhausted, after a very mild day at work. Would this be the norm until the baby was born? That would be a real pain.
Supper had to be ready early, because Robin’s writers’ group was meeting tonight at the new Community Center, at seven.
Right after I’d come home I’d gotten a load of clean clothes out of the dryer to fold. Then I’d collapsed on the living room couch to read for a few minutes. When those minutes were up, I tried to summon up some energy. Either this exhaustion was a result of the pregnancy, or an energy- draining vampire was sneaking in at odd moments.
Maybe we could have bacon sandwiches with fruit salad?
When the phone rang, I answered it without much enthusiasm.
“Roe,” said Beth Finstermeyer brightly. “Listen, the kids wouldn’t happen to be at your house, would they?”
“I’m sure they’re not, but just in case they slipped past me, I’ll check Phillip’s room,” I said. A finger of dread tickled my spine.
I knocked, and when I didn’t get an answer I opened Phillip’s door. Either thieves had ransacked his room, or a very localized tornado had swept through.
“No, it’s just like he left it,” I said to Beth. I looked at my phone. “And he hasn’t texted me again, since he told me he was going out with Josh.”
There was a moment’s silence. “I am sure I’m just being a silly mom,” Beth said, “but would you try to call Phillip? I can’t get either Josh or Joss to pick up. There are a million reasons, of course. . . .”
“Sure,” I said promptly. “A million. Of course I’ll try him, Beth, and I’ll call you after I talk to him.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Oh, and congratulations on getting married. I never said anything, but Robin’s so much fun. I know you two will be really happy together.”
“Thanks, Beth,” I answered. I could tell she was really anxious, and I found it was contagious. “I’ll let you know about the kids the minute I hear.”
I called Phillip the instant after I’d pressed End Call.
My call went directly to voice mail.
“Yo, leave me a message, and I’ll get back with you,” Phillip said in a tough- guy voice.
“Phillip, it’s Roe. Please call me back the second you can. I really need to talk to you.” I heard the front door open and hurried back into the living room. Robin was taking off his coat and hanging it on the old rack just inside the front door. Then he started riffling through a small stack of envelopes, probably from his official Robin Crusoe mailbox. But when he looked up, he dropped the letters and came to me.
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“What’s wrong?” Robin had radar for trouble. He put his big hands on my shoulders and looked down at me intently.
“Beth doesn’t know where Josh, Joss, and Phillip are,” I said. “They’re late getting home.”
“Worrisome,” Robin said, instead of trying to soothe me with possible explanations: Phillip’s phone could have gone dead or he could be in one of those areas out in the country that had no bars (why?), or he could be away from his phone (as if! He slept with it), or he could be simply avoiding me. If he was, it was the first time he’d transgressed to such an extent, and I found it unlikely he was doing something so heinous at exactly the same moment his friends were.
I called Beth. “No answer,” I said, in the brightest voice I could manage. “I’ll keep trying.”
Robin had pulled his coat back on. He had mine over his arm. “Let’s go look,” he said.
That was such a perfect thing to do that I felt a flood of reassurance. I’d often doubted my wisdom during my time with Martin; but now I felt a rightness and a surety that we had done the right thing when we got married.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”
We’d driven all around the high school, the baseball practice field, the soccer field, and the basketball gym. We’d even checked the football stadium. Then we’d cruised past the Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Burger King, and every other fast food place where kids hung out. We’d checked out the Finstermeyers’ house, just in case. We’d gone past the Cinema Super Six. We’d even checked out the nearest mall, ten miles closer to Atlanta, which I avoided like the plague after Thanksgiving Day.
We didn’t see Josh’s car, a black 2010 Camaro, anywhere. I’d dredged up the names of a few of the kids Phillip had brought home or talked about, and we’d been by their houses; I knew where most of them lived.
And we didn’t find the kids or the car.
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Copyright © 2016 by Charlaine Harris.
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Charlaine Harris is a #1 New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. Born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area, she is the author of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, which are the basis for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Aurora Teagarden original movies; the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series, which was the basis for the HBO show True Blood; the Shakespeare mysteries; the Harper Connelly mysteries; and the Cemetery Girl mysteries. Harris now lives in Texas with her husband.