Then She Was Gone

By Lisa Jewell, A suspenseful story about unraveling the mystery behind a girl's disappearance

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell was one of those books that piqued my interest, embarrassingly enough, partially because of the cover. I’ve been meaning to read something of hers for a while, and this one kept catching my eye so I picked it up a while ago though I still keep seeing it around.

But anyway, I’ve been busy with some life stuff and with revamping some stuff on the site, so I haven’t had a ton of time for reading. Instead, I wanted something fast and entertaining to read, which is generally when I turn to mystery-thrillers.

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

In Then She Was Gone, a teenager, Ellie Mack, has been missing for over a decade. Laurel, her mother, along with the rest of her family was left with no answers in a case that failed to produce any leads.

Laurel’s life has been on hold in many ways since her daughter’s death, but she meets a new man, Floyd, and finds herself drawn in by his charm. She’s excited, happy and open to new possibilities again. It’s not until she meets his younger daughter, Poppy, though that questions arise. Poppy is lovely and precocious … and looks so much like Ellie that it can’t possibly be a coincidence.

Faced again with the many unanswered questions about Ellie’s disappearance, Laurel finds herself looking back to the past once again.

See it on Amazon.

Book Review

I didn’t have a ton of expectations going into Then She Was Gone. I think I was expecting something similar to the other recent mystery bestsellers like The Wife Between Us or something like that.

Then She Was Gone has a clear family drama element to it, which I wasn’t expecting, but was pleasantly surprised by. Jewell sincerely tries to tackle the subject of the family struggling from the weight of their loss, and it gives the book a little more heft. I don’t know that it says anything really groundbreaking, but it gave the characters more dimension.

At the same time the actual mystery component to it was less satisfying than I was expecting as well. While the mystery and suspense of what happened to Ellie is absolutely at the forefront of the book throughout the entire novel, the resolution of Ellie’s disappearance is more straightforward than I had been hoping for.

While there are a few key plot twists, there weren’t any that really caught me off guard. There’s a few instances of plot points where seems like the book is pointing in a specific direction, but since it’s a mystery, I kept expecting to be wrong about it. When it turns out it’s exactly what you think it sounds like, that’s a little disappointing.

There’s also the “ick” factor in a major component of the plot, which if you’ve read it I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about. I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but, ummm, yuck. It’s not a knock on the book, really, but I’m glad she skipped over the details on that part.

That all said, Lisa Jewell’s writing is on par or better than your average mystery-thriller writer, I think. The story kept my interest, but I expected more from the mystery, so overall it kind of felt like a letdown.

Alternate Ending

Jewell writes about the original ending of the book (spoiler), which her editor steered her away from in a blog post. Obviously, if you haven’t read it, it will spoil part of the book, so don’t click on that link until you’ve read the book.

I’m on board with her editor on this one. I think the ending that’s in the book is more realistic than the alternative ending. I can see why she’d want to write it that way to give it a happier ending, but I think the ending that her editor steered her towards makes more sense.

Read it or Skip it?

I found it a suspenseful story, but too predictable. I certainly wasn’t bored reading it, but the twists and turns weren’t twisty enough for my liking.

I’d be open to reading a different book of Jewell’s since I don’t think she’s a bad writer or anything, but the mystery in Then She Was Gone didn’t really do it for me. This ranks for me as a pretty average mystery novel, so I don’t know that I’d really recommend it. See Then She Was Gone on Amazon.

If you’re looking for a mystery-thriller, here’s some I liked: The Silent Patient, In the Woods, The Woman in the Window.


Detailed Plot Summary (Spoilers)

Prologue

Ellie Mack is a high school student. She has a boyfriend of one year, Theo Goodman, and she is happy. She goes missing.

Part One

Chapters 1 - 12

Laurel Mack is Ellie's mother. Hanna (middle child) and Jake (oldest) are Ellie's siblings. Ellie, the youngest, was the golden child of the family and went missing 10 years ago, in May 2005. Paul (their father) and Laurel divorced after Ellie went missing. The family has grown apart. Hanna is distant and works all the time.

The last sighting of Ellie was from a security camera, of her at intersection nearby. There have been no leads in the intervening years. Now, ten years later, a TV show, Crimewatch, has done a show on the disappearance. Now, an investigation has turned up Ellie's backpack, but it reinforces the police's notion that she ran away. Laurel reluctantly admits that there was a burglary at their house soon after Ellie disappeared, and perhaps it was Ellie going back to pick up some stuff.

(2005) Before she went missing, Ellie had been struggling with math class. Ellie asked for a tutor, and Noelle Donnelly was recommended. It went well, but Noelle started to weird Ellie out, so Ellie stopped the lessons. After the lessons stopped, Noelle runs into Ellie and offers her some practice materials. Ellie, not wanting to be rude, accepts. They go to Noelle's house, and Ellie isn't seen again.

The police also find some partial human remains. It's Ellie. It looks like she was run over and then buried in the forest. They bury her. It all seems concluded, but a month later, Laurel meets a man named Floyd.

Part Two

Chapters 13-22

Laurel meets Floyd Dunn at a cafe, and they go to dinner at a Eritrean restaurant. Floyd has two kids, a 21-year-old named Sara-Jade (from his first marriage to Kate Virtue) and Poppy, 9-year-old from a casual relationship. Poppy's mother abandoned her at his doorstep when Poppy was four.

Floyd writes books about mathematics and number theory. On their next day, he tells her he Googled her and knows about Ellie. They sleep together. Laurel meets his kids, and is floored when she realizes Poppy looks just like Ellie. Poppy and Floyd have a very close relationship, which unnerves Laurel a little. But overall, Laurel is much more excited and happy due to her relationship than she has been in a long time.

Hanna pays Laurel to clean her apartment, so Laurel knows that Hanna has not been sleeping at home. Hanna claims she's out partying, but that's not really her personality. Laurel finds some flowers given to Hanna by someone named "T". Laurel also visits her elderly mom who had a stroke many years ago. Her mother Ruby is old, but seems to be holding on hoping for Ellie to be found.

They (uncharacteristically) plan a big family dinner. Laurel brings Floyd and Paul brings his partner, Bonny. It goes well.

Chapters 23 - 26

Laurel finds an envelope addressed to Noelle Donnelly in Floyd's house. Floyd says she's Poppy's mom. Laurel remembers that Noelle was Ellie's math tutor. Hanna tells Laurel that Ellie thought Noelle was creepy and weird. Laurel goes through Ellie's journals which confirms it. Floyd acknowledges that she was a very cling fan of his books, which is why they got involved.

Jake's girlfriend, Blue, calls Laurel after the dinner. Blue says that she thinks Floyd is hiding something and that his aura is dark. Laurel is dismissive.

Laurel finds out SJ is seeing an older, married man. She advises SJ to end it, telling her about when she was younger and did the same thing. SJ expresses interest in Ellie's disappearance. SJ also tells Laurel that she caught a glimpse of Noelle a month before Poppy would've been born, and Noelle wasn't pregnant.

Part Three

Chapters 27 - 35

(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) Noelle grew up with two older brothers, two younger brothers and a younger sister who died when she was eight. Noelle comes upon Floyd's book, and goes to a signing. It turns out they both live in the same neighborhood (Stroud Green), a few roads apart. They run into each other later, and eventually go to dinner at a Eritrean restaurant. They see each other for over a year. Noelle does not get along well with SJ.

Noelle gets pregnant but loses the baby. Around this time, she starts tutoring Ellie. She becomes obsessed with Ellie and her seemingly perfect life.

(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel calls an old number she has for Noelle. Joshua Donnelly answers. Noelle is his aunt, but no one has heard from her in a while. He's never even met her, even though he lives in her old house now. Joshua shows Laurel the basement, where there's a sofa, tv and a bunch of hamster cages where they found a bunch of dead hamsters. Laurel also finds a tube of lip balm that matches ones Ellie had.

Laurel takes Poppy to meet Joshua and see her old house. Poppy is hesitant, but then eager to meet her relatives. However, she refuses to enter the basement, saying she was told never to go down there. Her mom had told her there was a monster there.

The next day, Laurel sees Theo, Ellie's old boyfriend, with a woman. It's Hanna.

Part Four

Chapters 36 - 49

(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) After Noelle kidnaps Ellie, she keeps her in the basement. She gives her the hamsters as pets. One day, she drugs her and soon Ellie realizes she's pregnant. Noelle pretends to Floyd that she's pregnant. However, a month before the baby is due, Floyd breaks it off anyway.

(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel calls Noelle's parents who report that they haven't seen her in decades. She was supposed to move and go live with them along with Poppy at one point, but it looks like she dropped off the baby with Floyd and disappeared instead.

Floyd tells her that Noelle was an atrocious parent and it's better that she's out of the picture. At Floyd's house, Laurel finds a set of candlesticks that had been stolen in the burglary (after Ellie left). Poppy says they were Noelle's.

(From Ellie's perspective, in the past) Around the time when Poppy is still a baby, Ellie passes away from Noelle's neglect. Noelle disposes of the body and dumps the remains.

Chapters 50 - 57

(From Noelle's perspective, in the past) Floyd grows closer to Poppy, but Noelle feels him pulling away from her. She decides to move to live with her parents (along with Poppy) to make him chase her. Floyd figures out her plan, and wants her to give up Poppy. Noelle finally admits it's not his child (she purchased sperm to impregnate Ellie), but also that it wasn't hers either. Noelle tells him she doesn't want the baby and is about to leave, but he attacks Noelle.

(From Laurel's perspective, in the present) Laurel talks to Paul about Hanna and Theo, and he says he's known for months. Paul says Hanna is cold to Laurel because she knows Laurel always wished Ellie was the one who'd survived. Laurel calls Hanna to says she loves her.

Laurel goes into Floyd's study and sees that there's a bunch of newspaper cuttings about Ellie's disappearance from even before they met, around the time the Crimewatch show aired. Laurel celebrates Christmas with Floyd and Poppy, but she feels something's wrong. Blue reiterates that she thinks Floyd is fake and hiding something. Floyd tells Laurel he has a surprise for her.

Part Five

Chapters 58 - 65

Laurel finds a card where Floyd admits that there's something he's not telling her. He tells her to go to the study and watch a video he recorded. In the video, he confesses that he found out about Ellie on Crimewatch. He knew very quickly that Ellie's was Poppy's mother.

Floyd didn't go to the police because he was worried they'd suspect he was involved. He was afraid he's lose Poppy. He gets involved with Laurel on purpose to let her get to know Poppy, but is surprised when Laurel is attracted to him too. He admits that he murdered Noelle and buried her out back. He tells her she can have Poppy, and it's up to her if she goes to the police.

(Floyd's perspective) Floyd has left Poppy with Laurel and driven off. He shoots himself.

(Eight Months Later) Hanna and Theo get married. Laurel is taking care of Poppy.

Epilogue

A woman goes to the police. She's found a note hidden in a book she got from a used bookstore. The author of the note is Ellie. She writes about Noelle keeping her captive. She says she loves her family and for someone to find Poppy and tell her she loves her.

Alternate Ending

In the alternate ending, Ellie doesn't die, instead Floyd finds Ellie in the basement after he kills Noelle. He's scared of losing Poppy, so he keeps her alive in his basement. After he kills himself, Laurel and Ellie are reunited.

See Then She Was Gone on Amazon.

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