Author Tara Laskowski grew up in Luzerne County and it’s obvious from her first novel, “One Night Gone,” that she had to have spent some time at the New Jersey shore. She has woven not just the physical geography, but the social geography of the beach towns — the townies and the tourists, the separate worlds of the wealthy and the invisible service workers, the powerful and the dependent — into an engrossing cold case mystery.
TV meteorologist Allison Simpson flees a messy divorce and, more urgently, the spectacular way in which she exposed her husband’s infidelity, by agreeing to house-sit for the winter a beachside mansion at affluent Opal Beach. (It’s fictitious, but you’ll recognize it if you have spent time at the New Jersey beach from Ocean City southward.)
Through the year-round residents Allison meets in town, she falls into unraveling the disappearance, 30 years earlier, of young Maureen Halladay — an itinerant amusement park worker who falls into the abyss while attempting to straddle the chasm between her own background and the rich families of Opal Beach.
Laskowski deftly maintains two timelines, Maureen’s and Allison’s, while maintaining the suspenseful pacing that is crucial to any mystery story. And she simultaneously weaves Maureen’s coming-of-age story with Allison’s discovery of herself as she discovers clues to Maureen’s fate, producing yet another theme of feminist vindication.
By making Allison not just a TV weather “personality,” but a trained meteorologist, Laskowski also makes the fierce ocean-side winter weather a character in itself, bathing the mystery in a persistent gray light and grimly casting into sharp relief the grim social disparities of Opal Beach.
Laskowski, who now lives in Virginia, already is an accomplished writer, the award-winning author of two short story collections, “Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons” and “Bystanders.” “One Night Gone” is an impressive first novel that further proves her chops.
The book was released Oct. 1, perhaps to coincide with the timing of the storyline. But the mystery of this mystery is why it wasn’t released for the summer. It is, not surprisingly, an ideal read for the beach.
‘One Night Gone’
- Author: Tara Laskowski
- Pages: 352
- Publisher: Graydon House
- Price: $16.95
Patrick McKenna has been associate editor of The Times-Tribune since July 1990. He is a member of the newspaper’s editorial board, a role in which he helps to formulate editorial policy. As editorial and op-ed editor, he is responsible for most of The Times-Tribune’s opinion content and the author of most of the newspaper’s editorials. A 1978 graduate of Penn State, Pat started at The Scranton Times in March 1978. He has won multiple statewide awards for editorial writing, and the national WIlliam Allen White Award for Editorial Excellence. Pat is a Scranton native and lives in Clarks Green.