“Blue Velvet” has his ear cut off, “The Big Lebowski” has his toe cut off and “No One Will Miss Her” has his nose cut off. While Kat Rosenfield’s first adult thriller deserves a favorable comparison with these iconic neo-blacks, her book takes a big step outside the genre’s boundaries to say something vital about poverty, snobbery, and the unique costs for women of these peculiar plagues.
The novel’s evocation of classic detective films does not stop at the nose. “No One Will Miss Her” begins with a prologue evoking Sunset Boulevard: “My name is Lizzie Ouellette, and if you’re reading this, I’m already dead.” Lizzie describes her past as the “jezebel of the junkyard” of her hapless hometown of Copper Falls, Maine; as one character puts it, “Even the annual influx of tourists couldn’t reverse the city’s prolonged death from neglect.” Life in Copper Falls has been especially hard on Lizzie, who lost her mother as a child and grew up in a trailer with her father, a dump owner and alcohol drinker. As a child, she was ostracized, her cat brutalized. According to her, it has always been considered “the trash that this city should have taken out years ago”.
The book’s wandering point of view guides readers through MP Myles Johnson’s visit to the Copperbrook Lakefront home whose nose he recovers. This October morning, Deputy Johnson was circling with an evacuation order: Lizzie’s father’s scrapyard nearby was on fire, putting neighbors in danger. The Lake House – a rental property – is owned by Lizzie and her husband, Dwayne Cleaves, owner of a small landscaping business; the nose in the kitchen sink belongs to the mutilated body in the bedroom whose cause of death was a single gunshot that shattered the face. Notes Lizzie, “They all thought I was better off dead.”
When Maine State Police Detective Ian Bird steps in, Deputy Johnson, a longtime friend of Dwayne’s, insists the guy wouldn’t have killed his wife. Detective Bird isn’t so sure: Since there is no sign of the break-in or theft of property at the Lake House, the murder “had all the hallmarks of a domestic argument.” Bird thinks, “something deeply, horribly personal.” Unfortunately for Bird, Dwayne was nowhere to be found for questioning.
Detective Bird’s interest is piqued when Lizzie’s rental records show the last occupants of the house were Adrienne and Ethan Richards, who Lizzie says is “one of those white-collar villains who take flight on. a golden parachute and land softly in a pile of cash as the business he looted burns to the ground. There was no indictment against Ethan, so he didn’t pay a dime for the financial scandal he precipitated.
As for Adrienne, during the two summers the Richards rented out the lake house, Lizzie got to know the Trophy Wife and came to understand that she was a totally loathsome human being, someone who didn’t was absolutely not troubled by the immorality of her husband. And yet, for a person like Lizzie, who was seen as worthless from day one, Adrienne’s life has an ambitious side; as Lizzie says, “That’s the saddest part: there was a pathetic part of me that always wanted to be that someone.” Adrienne really is someone – not just a “type” of a real housewife, but, Detective Bird gleans from her Wikipedia page, someone who was actually being considered for a Real Housewives series before her husband scandal. ‘erases his chances.
Rosenfield so skillfully designs the central twist of his novel, which falls like an ax towards the middle section of the book, that his plot rises to the level of architecture. At this point in the story, the mystery element gives way to sustained suspense: Will Detective Bird find out what readers already know? This dynamic is reminiscent of the best Alfred Hitchcock had to offer, with Detective Bird as Psycho Arbogast’s private investigator, or as Chief Inspector Hubbard in “Dial M for Murder.” In the hands of a director as skilled as the Master of Suspense, “No One Will Miss Her” could be a powerhouse on the big screen, and the boy is the eternally unrecognized Lizzie Ouellette ready for his close-up.
Nell Beram is a former editor-in-chief of Atlantic and co-author of “Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies”. She is a frequent contributor to the Bright Lights Film Journal, Salon and Shelf Awareness.
Bedside table: A book that meditates, what if?