Review: The Girl Who Wasn’t There (Vincent Zandri)

Based on other reviews, I’m solidly in the minority here: this is not the sort of book I expect from someone who has won awards in their field (as the author has won the Shamus award from the ITW). I did not find the book to be particularly well-written or the story one that couldn’t be figured out abut 20% of the way in (based on markings in my Fire).


Sidney “Doc” O’Keefe has been released from prison, where he was incarcerated for ten years after being caught as the wheelman for two of his friends – friends who executed a Chinese family of four at the behest of their boss, a gangster named Rabuffo. Sidney assures the reader that he, himself, did not participate in the shooting of the family. Multiple times through the book, again and again. We get it, he’s innocent, even though I didn’t buy it the first time he told us and was even more convinced he was involved in nefarious doings the further the book rolled along. (I was right.)

Sidney and his wife Penny, along with their daughter Chloe, who is now 11, head to Lake Placid as a family rebonding thing. There they set themselves up next to another couple, the Stevens, and their daughter. Sidney and Penny decide to leave their daughter outside, paying with the daughter of total strangers, to go back to the hotel room and have some sexytime. Sidney finally admits he gave up Rabuffo to the Feds, and that’s how he was able to get his release.

First of all: who in their right mind leaves their child with complete strangers? Second, how is little vacation being paid for? The opening page says they sold their house to pay his legal bills, after which his wife and daughter moved into a one bedroom apartment, then a studio apartment. We get the answer to the former (idiots) but not really the latter.

When they go back out to the beach, their daughter is gone. The Stevens are of no help, and their daughter saw nothing. Thus we begin Sidney and Penny’s hunt for their daughter. They walk through the town, return to the hotel, where House Detective Giselle assures them they are scouring the hotel for her. Everything comes up empty.

They head to the police to file a report. The chief, Walton, makes no effort whatsoever to act like someone concerned for a missing child; instead he all but accuses Sidney of doing something terrible to her, being an ex-con and all. They head back to the hotel, and that night, hear their daughter calling for them. Sidney jumps up and sees what appears to be a man with his daughter. He heads out of the room toward them, and is promptly hit on the head. He shakes it off and goes after the man he saw, dragging him off a fence and pounding the crap out of him, trying to find out where his daughter is.

The next day, the guy he beat up is on tv telling a sob story about how he was just minding his business and Sidney just beat him up. The cops show up, and Sidney and Penny steal a jeep and head for the hills (literally). They find a vacant hunting cabin and hole up there, but naturally, the cops manage to find them in this one remote, abandoned cabin, bring a helicopter along, and start firing grenades at the cabin.

The book had, to that point, only made me shake my head from time to time. After that point, I just sighed and made myself go through the rest of it. It’s all a grand scheme, involving his lawyer, wife, the Chief of police, some weirdo named Gary (who they trust without a second thought, even though the book has already shown they shouldn’t be trusting complete strangers), one of Sidney’s friends from the massacre of the Chinese family, and the House Detective.

What they want is all the money Rabuffo has stored in a vault in his house, since Rabuffo has been fortuitously arrested by the FBI and his house is empty. For some reason, Rabuffo had keyed Sidney to the vault, via optical scan (what, none of them saw Demolition Man?) and entry code. And for some reason, the Feds and police and simply run crime scene tape around the place and then just went on their way, leaving no one at all to watch the place.

There are a bunch of deaths, by bullet and by strangulation by belt, and lost things (and people) found. Sidney lives, just like that – snap! – exonerated, and is reunited with Chloe.

It’s a short book at only 226 pages, and I really hope that the review ecopy I received is an uncorrected proof. There is apostrophe abuse, incorrect use of words that show why people should not rely on spellcheck alone (wrap for rap, for instance, right on page 3), tons of sentence fragments, and phrases that made no sense.

“I’m free, paroled for good if I keep my nose clean, as the rednecks like to say.”

I a fairly sure that keeping one’s nose clean is not just the purview of rednecks (or mothers wiping snot off a toddler’s face, for that matter).

Then there’s this, which I had to read a couple of times to understand what the heck he was saying – not to a person, just telling the reader something.

“You know, the big, black Suburban I drove to the house lived in by a Chinese family who owed my boss, Ricky Rabuffo, too much money.”

What? How about making that better, using active instead of passive voice, and using some of those commas on all the sentence fragments strewn everywhere?

It started off well: ex-con goes to the beach with his wife and daughter. Their daughter goes missing, and they need to find her. It was all downhill from there, with a too-many-people-involved conspiracy, short sequences where we have to question if Sidney is actually seeing something/having something happen to him, and lots of the author telling us things instead of showing them to us.

Two stars out of five.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the review copy.