In full disclosure, Alessandra Harris is published by Red Adept Publishing. I do not know Alessandra and I have never worked on her books. I chose to review Last Place Seen because I am fascinated by missing persons as well as complicated family dynamics and this book promised both. The novel is written in third-person, past tense with alternating points of view between Tiana and Jay. I was immediately drawn into their lives by the clean, rhythmic flow of words. It seemed effortless.
Tiana and Jay are in their late twenties and have been married for four years. Jay is unemployed although he is putting in applications and making good showings at interviews. He can't get a break. He was incarcerated for 18 months and it has limited his prospects. Tiana works for a social media company, pulling as much overtime as she can to make ends meet. Tiana and Jay’s life together is oppressive, from the sweltering heat in their non-airconditioned apartment, to the financial strain, they are both stretched thin. Their young son, Markus, is four and rendered to perfection. Jay is the primary caregiver for Markus and their bond is strong. They have a strong family even if it is not perfect.
A local girl, Zoe Miller, was last seen at the local Wal-Mart and Jay admits that he was there when they were looking for her. He heard them calling her name over the intercom. When the police come knocking and take him in for questioning based on that simple coincidence, we begin to see how strangled Jay is in his life after incarceration. When a link is discovered between Tiana and the missing girl, the tension mounts.
The characters are written in full color, with flaws and all. They stepped off the page and walked into my day, making themselves to home as I listened to their lives unraveling. It was riveting. I rooted for each of the characters in turn. I yelled at Tiana time and again as she made reactive decisions that stretched the fragile fabric holding her family together. Her actions led to misunderstandings and frustrations and nearly tore Tiana and Jay’s world apart. The ever-present wildfire escalates the tension.
For me, the hero in this book was Jay. He was steadfast and even when he was at his most hopeless his decisions were about his family and how he could serve them best. The struggle of having a record hanging around his neck was subtle but led to his feelings of inadequacy and failure. The mystery of his crime is teased out through the book and when it is finally revealed it makes perfect sense. There was no other way he could have reacted in the moment. Jay works steadily to solve the mystery surrounding Zoe's disappearance, not just to clear his name, but to bring justice to those responsible. Jay risks his fragile security to bring information he has discovered to law enforcement even though he has a distrust of the police and they have already written him off as a guilty man.
This was a book about a missing girl, a complex family dynamic, misguided parents, and deception. It was about redemption, forgiveness, and hope. It was also about the black experience in America. I appreciated the deft skill of the writer weaving the web without losing any of the threads of the narrative. I listened to this book on Audible. The narrator was Trei Taylor who created a good balance between telling the story and acting it out.