Ryderís tense psychological melodrama is flavored with a painful, complicated mix of art and death shaped around fifteen-year-old Karen Miller, who goes missing from San Francisco in 1979. A girl with a working-class life, her inexplicable vanishing act takes a toll on both her sister, Amanda, and her debonair kidnapper, Tristan Mouralt, who will try absolutely everything he can to prevent his carefully constructed, privileged life from unraveling.
Karenís world is turned upside down when she becomes Tristanís lifelong project and guiding force in a
Lolita-like haze of sexual obsession. Sheís barely fifteen when sheís plucked from the bland tourist milieu of Fishermanís Walk, the girl dominating Tristanís dreams with feverish urgency. Years later, Amanda is left to pick up the pieces when she moves to Seattle in a bid to forget the difficult circumstances of her childhood. Perpetually nervous and plagued with nightmares, Amanda is still barely able to cope with the mystery of her sisterís loss that has plagued her over the years.
So starts Ryderís ambitious novel of duplicity and blackmail, in which the riddle of identity is tied to a murder and an obsession with art and beauty is begun in infancy. Many of the interweaving storylines hinge on chance, reflecting incidents from Tristanís own enigmatic past. Mesmerized by pictures, flowers and facesand also heir to a fortune in impressionist artTristan harbors a secret desire to rescue Karen from her fate.
Tristan steadily remakes his muse, first in New York and then at Falconerís Point, an eccentric manor house perched high on the edge of the picaresque town of Devon in Washington
state. Poor Amanda is left to solve the mystery of Karenís whereabouts. Even when sheís presented with her sisterís blood-soaked backpack, discovered gashed with a knife and dumped off the edge of a pier, the details of her death can only be sketched in broad strokes.
Still seeing it in nightmares though she never did in life, years later Amanda gets a letter from Karen. She canít explain the impulse, except that in the first fragile moments of her reading, Amanda knows that her sister is still alive. Meanwhile, guided by the authority of his feelings rather than the dictates of any sort of good sense, Tristan connects with wealthy artists Robin Dresden and Marc Kreicek while his beautiful daughter, now called Giselle, marries the yearningly romantic Luke Farrell.
From the outset, it is clear that Luke is married to a mirage. Gisele is a strange girl with an air of enchantment and a distinguished father whose refined manners speak of worlds Luke has never known. Although it would appear that Gisele and her collection of nude paintings are the crux of the novel, Ryder focuses on the mistrust between Tristan, Robin, Marc, and Luke, blending the needs of all four into the unfolding drama. As Gisele and Tristan piece together their illusory ideal, an idyllic life built on lies and poison, Tristanís dulcet tones echo throughout: is he a rabid sexual predator or a kindly father figure?
The murder is integral to the plot but also part of a larger canvas of trickily interlaced symbolism revolving around ballet and art. Spinning a tale of long-hidden secrets bared for all to see, Ryderís book is overly long and a bit exhausting for my taste.
The revelations come thick and fast, variously cold and hot, and involve a degree of coincidence that would give even Charles Dickens pause.