#SheReviews What Happened To Nina? By Dervla McTiernan.

April 5, 2024

Alarmingly and frighteningly, around 630 000 people go missing every year in America. Of that sobering figure, most are located. Despairingly and heartbreakingly, some 90 000 of that number are never found. (In Australia annually, some 38 000 people are reported to police each year as being missing. Most of these folk are found within a short space of time, with about 2 600 of them being missing for longer than three months).

One can only imagine the icy-cold bewilderment, panic and devouring fear that forms in the lives of the families of missing persons. While many are given a salve of good news when their loved ones are mercifully located, some live in a nightmarish mental and emotional place of ‘never knowing’.

Such precipitous evolutions are superbly and eerily examined and explored in stellar Irish writer (she now calls Australia home), Dervla McTiernan’s, latest mystery thriller, What Happened to Nina?

This exemplary novel centres around the disappearance of twenty year old Nina Fraser. Nina is at college at UVM in her hometown of Waitsfield, located in the sublimely forested countryside of the US state of Vermont (which sits in the northeast terrain of America).

Nina has been with her boyfriend, Simon Jordan (also twenty), at his family’s (his parents are loaded) property at Stowe, not far from Waitsfield, for the week. Simon is at college at Northwestern, and having been together since they were sixteen (and having known each other since they were five), Nina and Simon have been making the long-distance romance work, and in most people’s eyes are the ‘golden couple’.

Seismic ruptions unwelcomingly force their way into Nina’s family’s lives when Simon returns home to his parents’ palatial home in Waitsfield without Nina on the Friday night.

Initially Nina’s parents, the sensitive and hardworking Leanne (who owns and runs the cosy ‘Black Friar Inn’ in Waitsfield) and the salt-of-the-earth Andy (who runs a successful landscaping business) are thinking that Nina is off doing her own thing, and is choosing not to answer their phone calls. As Simon’s mom, Jamie (a stay-at-home mom who is looks and image obsessed), and dad, Rory (a eye-wateringly wealthy businessman) tell Andy and Leanne, when they go around to the Jordan’s house in Waitsfield on Sunday night, Simon and Nina have broken up. Rory explains to the concerned Andy and Leanne, “Simon’s all cut up about it. I’m not sure it was his idea, you understand. But he hasn’t spoken to Nina since Friday. They broke up, so he came home. Wish I could be more help, but that’s all we know”.

When the lead investigator in Nina’s case, the no-nonsense and straight-talking, Detective Matthew Wright from Major Crimes, goes to see the Frasers on the Monday afternoon, we hope that things can be resolved. He is told that none of Nina’s friends have heard from her, although Simon had told the Frasers that Nina was now “with (her) friends”.

Matthew’s work partner is Sarah Jane Reid, and although relatively new to the policing caper, she is eager to learn and quite cluey.

Despite not having heard from Nina by Monday afternoon, Andy is optimistic that Nina is away somewhere, because “You know what Nina’s like when she’s hurting. She doesn’t go to anyone for help. She curls up in a corner, licks her wounds, and when she feels better she comes out like a fighter”.

The week turns into the ‘week from hell’ for Leanne, Andy and Nina’s distraught sister, fifteen year old Grace. Social media causes further pain and distress to the Frasers, as wild propositions are put forward as to what really happened to Nina.  Poisonous attacks are aimed at the Frasers (the whole family, including Nina), and there is little they can do to get out of the firing line. Personal slights against Andy causes him to lose clients, and Leanne has closed the inn for a time, due to the stress and trauma of Nina’s disappearance, so things are also looking grim for the Fraser family financially as well as mentally and emotionally.

Meanwhile, Simon’s parents do all they can to shield Simon from the situation by turning to top-flight lawyers, and even public relations people, who turn the attention to Nina’s parents and create doubt in people’s minds as to what really did happen to Nina.

When journalists lay siege to the Fraser and Jordan families, nerves are further eroded in both camps.

What really did happen to Nina?

Is she behaving like a petulant child and going off-grid to get away from things, or did something sinister happen to her after Simon left her at Stowe?

Will Leanne, Andy and Grace ever get the answers they need from Detective Matthew Wright about what actually happened to ‘their girl’ and where she is?

Can both the Fraser and Jordan families cope with the tormenting angst and pressure from the case that they all wish wasn’t in their lives?

Where does Grace go when she ditches school, and is she telling her parents everything?

Are Leanne and Andy perpetrating villains (a view espoused on the internet) or unjust victims?

Are the Jordan family squeaky clean?

Will Leanne, Andy and Grace have to forever live with the ‘never knowing”?

Dervla has written a thriller that abounds with intelligence, wisdom, insight into the psyches of humans and gut-wrenching accuracy into the mental and emotional tidal waves that occur in a case such as Nina’s to those who are impacted when a loved one goes missing.

Bravo Dervla! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. I have read all of Dervla’s novels (this is her fifth), and they always blow me away by how formidably well they are written. This one has Netflix series written all over it.

I actually met Dervla at a recent author talk in Brisbane, and I can report that she is the loveliest person you could ever hope to meet and fiercely intelligent.

Dervla travelled to Vermont to research What Happened to Nina?, so we know the beautifully detailed descriptions of the Vermont countryside are authentic and spot on. As Dervla writes in her acknowledgments, “I’d like to thank Peter Mandych, from Country Mile Vermont, who acted as my guide to all things Vermont”.

I loved the classy and polished What Happened to Nina?. Please put me down to read whatever Dervla writes next!