Book review: Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea

Saturday, May 4, 2024 Permalink

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea is the seventh book I’ve read by the American author, almost all of which have been consistently good four-star reads. His latest is no different and touches on a whole stack of contemporary and popular themes, including the solving of cold cases using DNA harvested from genealogy sites as well as the burgeoning popularity of true crime podcasts and the like. Of course we see the pros and cons of both here as Donlea wraps them up in a fascinating long-buried mystery.

Book review: Long Time Gone by Charlie DonleaLong Time Gone
by Charlie Donlea
Published by Kensington, Kensington Publishing Corporation
on 21/05/2024
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1496727223
Pages: 304

When Dr. Sloan Hastings submits her DNA to an online genealogy site for a research assignment, her goal is to better understand the treasure-trove of genetic information contained on ancestry websites. Brilliant and driven, Sloan is embarking on a fellowship in forensic pathology, training under the renowned Dr. Livia Cutty.

Raised by loving, supportive parents, Sloan has always known she was adopted. But her DNA profile suggests her true identity is that of Charlotte Margolis, aka “Baby Charlotte,” who captured the nation’s attention when she and her affluent parents mysteriously vanished in July 1995. Despite a large-scale investigation and months of broad media coverage, there were never any suspects in the family’s disappearance and the case has been cold for decades.

Racing to stay ahead of the media and true crime junkies ravenous to know what really happened to Baby Charlotte, Sloan’s search for answers leads her to Cedar Creek, Nevada, a small town north of Lake Tahoe. There, the Margolis family’s power and influence permeate every corner of the county, and while Sloan’s birth relatives are initially welcoming, they’re also mysterious and tight-lipped. Not everyone seems happy about Sloan’s return, or the questions she’s asking.

I very much liked Sloan who’s on her first day as an intern with a coroner when she’s assigned her ‘research project’ which involves the use of genealogy sites for solving cold cases using DNA gathered for evidence. She’s adopted so checks in with her adoptive parents before sending her own sample as a guinea pig and is – of course – bewildered to discover her DNA matches that of ‘Baby Charlotte’.

As the FBI start questioning Sloan’s adoptive parents (who believed the ‘mother’ giving up their daughter was legit) Donlea takes us back to the days around the time of the Margolis’s family’s disappearance. We’re also introduced to local cop, originally on the case, Sheriff Stanford Stamos.

In the present Stamos’s son Eric is now Sheriff in Cedar Creek which is still under the thumb of the Margolis family. He approaches Sloan in confidence, knowing there were several discrepancies in the old investigation and believing Sloan may learn things from her birth family that he’s unable to.

We move back and forth in time. To the days leading up to the family going missing and learn that Charlotte’s mother was the suspect in a hit and run which killed a partner in the Margolis family’s law firm. There’s clear evidence placing her there but the original Sheriff Stamos had questions… resulting in an unfortunate outcome for him.

I loved the complexity that Donlea offers here. Crimes to cover crimes to cover crimes… kinda thing. And slowly the past catches up with the present as news of Sloan’s identity becomes public.

I appreciated that Sloan is offered several versions of her birth family – who they were then and who they are now – and needs to understand what’s true or false or (indeed) what’s changed them.

I was probably a little disappointed in the climax which felt a little rushed (perhaps even anticlimactic) – the pace perhaps picking up a little too quickly towards the end but it was certainly a satisfying ending which is always a good thing.

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea will be published by Kensington Publishing Corp  and available from 21 May 2024.

I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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