Book Review: Dragonfly Summer by J. H. Moncrieff
Jo Carter is middle-aged and resigned to a life of mediocrity in public relations for a small New York City museum, after a once promising career as a journalist. That all changes after an unusual letter arrives that turns everything upside down for her.
Back in high school, her best friend Sam Kennedy had abruptly vanished the night before prom. Jo thought she’d put that strange, traumatic period behind her, and is unhappily surprised twenty-seven years later to receive a newspaper clipping announcing a vigil for Sam back in their hometown of Clear Springs, Minnesota. She wouldn’t think much of it ordinarily, would set it aside as something else to forget, if it weren’t for the words “Find Me” scrawled on the back of the clipping in red ink.
Jo decides that the smartest thing to do is to contact Amanda Hutchingson, her and Sam’s other best friend, who still lives in Clear Springs. But after learning that Amanda has recently died too, Jo’s nose for news drives her to take a sabbatical from work and travel back to their hometown. She’d left after graduation and never looked back, chalking up her hazy recollections of the place on a determination to leave it all behind, physically and mentally. But talking to the people she once knew makes her start to reconsider:
Doug leaned closer. It took all of her willpower not to pull away. “Jo, what’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You are Jo Carter, right? Because you sound like someone else. ‘By all accounts’ Sam was ambitious. ‘I haven’t found anything that indicates…’ No offense, but you sound like she’s someone you’re writing an article about. Don’t you remember your best friend?”
Soon, Jo is investigating both her own lack of memories and the still unsolved disappearance of the girl she’d once been closest to in all the world. Doug Flaherty had been Sam’s boyfriend at the time, and had naturally become the prime suspect when she went missing. In the present day, Jo is shocked to learn that he subsequently married Amanda and that the two were, by all accounts, very happy together until Amanda died.
This, of course, arouses Jo’s suspicions. It’s deeply strange that the two women Doug had been intimately involved with should both meet untimely ends – assuming, of course, that Sam isn’t still alive somehow. Jo’s attempts to ask questions of the surviving residents of Clear Springs is hampered both by her faulty memory and, as another old friend gently reminds her, by the perceptions of the people she left behind:
“Jo, I know you. You’re aggressive. You’re pushy. You get in a person’s face.” Seeing her open her mouth, Jack held up a hand. “Please don’t be defensive. I don’t fault you for it. I’ve always appreciated those qualities in you, and I’m sure they made you a fantastic reporter.”
Her mouth snapped shut.
“When you were growing up, people here gave you the benefit of the doubt. They accepted you because you were one of them. They humored your questions and encouraged your drive, your ambition to run off to the big city and be the best writer in the world.”
“You say that like I’m not,” she joked, but he ignored her pitiful attempt at humor.
“My point is, things have changed. You aren’t one of us anymore.”
As incredibly strange events keep befalling her, the question of who summoned her back begins to take on as much significance as what truly happened to Sam that fateful summer. But not everyone is happy that Jo is digging up issues once thought buried, and more than one person is ready to do reckless, life-threatening things in order to stop her.
This thriller of small town secrets felt like a modern day Peyton Place with a healthy dose of the supernatural. The imagery of the dragonfly summer – a time both beautiful and fleeting – was gorgeously drawn, as well as a perfect metaphor for that elusive period in Jo’s history. Jo herself is a likable character with a gruesome past. Readers will be rooting for her to get to the bottom of what happened twenty-seven years ago, and to finally find peace for both herself and her missing friend.