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'Last Seen Leaving': A Few Good Books in One


A mother's search for her drifter daughter, the mysterious disappearance of a CIA operative, and a town in fear of a serial killer - those are the stories woven together in the new novel "Last Seen Leaving."

Writer Veronique de Turenne has this review.

VERONIQUE DE TURENNE: At least two and a half good books are duking it out in Kelly Braffet's new novel, "Last Seen Leaving." It careens along a story of missing persons and messed-up lives. Anne is a new-age dreamer whose adult daughter, Miranda, has vanished. Anne's frantic search plays out against her memories of another loss. Her husband disappeared years ago, flying secret missions for the CIA.

And then there's Miranda herself. Where is she? What's she doing? It starts with a midnight car crash. Miranda, young and drunk and perpetually angry, spins out on a rainy highway near Pittsburgh. A man in a silver Mercedes, the lone witness, offers her a ride. Here's Miranda as her apprehension finally catches up to ours.

(Reading) She turned and looked out the window just in time to see the truck stop fly by in a blur of yellow lights. Hey, she said. That was the exit. You, you just missed it. Did I, he said?

It sounds like the start of a mystery, one of those young-woman-in-peril page turners, but - and I swear, I'm not giving anything away - Miranda turns up safe and sound in a Carolina beach town just a few chapters in.

A thriller without thrills? Well, yeah, because the story Braffet's really after is about Anne, about her husband's secret life and mysterious death, how it shattered her and forever damaged their daughter.

It's told in flashbacks, quiet stuff, beautifully rendered. But it gets between us and Miranda, which is a shame because she's a terrific character. From her very first words, she vaults off the page, furious and funny and fabulous.

She's utterly original, totally screwed up and ripe for either the serial killer Braffet has lurking around the edges of the book, or a reunion with Anne. When Anne finds a photo in her daughter's abandoned apartment, we see Miranda through her mother's eyes.

(Reading) Her hair, which had been long and dyed candy-apple red the last time Anne had seen her, seemed to be blonde and either pulled back or cut brutally short. She wore thick, black eyeliner and a red tank top. Both straps of her bra slipped down her shoulders, one resting against the dark tattoo encircling her left arm.

Things race along: Anne searching for Miranda, Miranda running from herself, both following paths that eventually bring them together. For how long, we can't tell.

"Last Seen Leaving" is a tight, tense little book. You might not get all the answers you wanted, or even the story you were hoping for, but Kelly Braffet has a nice way of tripping up expectations. And that's what keeps you turning the pages.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: The book is Kelly Braffet's "Last Seen Leaving." Veronique de Turenne is a writer living in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Veronique de Turenne