Book Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean
Although the case of Azaria Chamberlain (the Dingo Ate My Baby case) is referenced several times during this intriguing Australian mystery, it’s the real-life case of the Beaumont siblings the story actually borrows from. If you don’t know the story of the Beaumont children, it’s basically this; three children vanished from a popular beach near Adelaide and were never seen again.
In this story, it’s three sisters who disappear from an outdoor school concert one night. Told through the eyes of Tikka, a friend and neighbour of the girls, the story is told in dual timelines; the events leading up to and surrounding the disappearance, and the present day, when the adult Tikka returns home from where she’s working in Baltimore due to a family illness and can’t help but start thinking about her missing friends all over again.
The book needs some trigger warnings, including for animal cruelty, parental abuse, enforcement of religion, death of a child, CSA and underage sex (rumoured). Cordelia, the old-for-her-years middle sibling of the Van Apfels, is rumoured to be pregnant and it’s clear her relationship with her father is unhealthy at best, from what Tikka discovers.
The writing is beautifully descriptive, to the point I’d class this as literary fiction, and gives an incredibly detailed flavour of suburban Australian life in the early 90s. However, I don’t think it’s going to go over all that well with mystery fans because it fails to actually provide a resolution. It’s haunting and sad and superbly written, and the child Tikka is indeed an endearingly precocious narrator, but if you don’t like stories where pretty much all the loose ends are left still flying around in the breeze, you’ll come to the end of this and feel unsatisfied and frustrated. I want to give it five stars for the quality of the writing, but that ending really does just peter out, and I don’t like unsolved mysteries. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.