“I’m destined to disappear,” Rachael Bard tells the listeners of her true crime podcasts.
For Sera Fleece, whose life is tumbling down around her as she dwells upon each of her many perceived failures and seldom leaves her home, her time is totally focused on every episode — each one dedicated to a missing or murdered woman. She thinks in terms of the episodes and absorbs the details Rachel reveals about her personal life. Sera knows she lives on Fountain Creek Ranch in the yellow house somewhat distant from her parents’ home and the barns, stables and quarters for the campers who fill the ranch in the summer.
And then, one day it happens. There are no more podcasts and no more social media posts. Rachel has disappeared.
“I know, the first 48 hours are crucial,” Sera tells herself. (After all, she doesn’t talk to anyone else — not her ex-husband who still cares, or her parents, or even the clerks she interacts with when she finally is able to get herself out of the house to buy tea.) “And every hour you don’t update, I think, ‘Something is wrong.’ I think, ‘The case is going cold.’”
So begins “If I Disappear” (Berkley Hardcover 2021) by Eliza Jane Brazier, which follows Sera as she drives to northern California in search of Fountain Creek Ranch.
“I will use the things you told me,” she says to Rachel, promising to find her.
But it doesn’t look promising. Somehow she missed the turn for the ranch, and stopping in the little town where Rachel went to school and where her best friend disappeared when they were high school students, she finds that no one will even mention its existence.
Turning back, she finds the ranch’s entrance, noticeable because what is supposed to be a tourist attraction has signs reading “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” posted on the drive.
“The setting came from a job I took in northern California that got weird at an isolated dude ranch. I won’t go into details, but the truth is very nearly stranger than fiction,” Brazier said when I ask about the eerie setting she created. “The emotion came from finding myself single again after my husband died. And the hook came from my love of true crime.”
Like Sera, Brazier says she was looking for answers but in a different way than most.
“After my husband died, I found that the grieving process really replicated true crime podcasts: you are searching for answers,” she said. “I found a lot of comfort in them and still do to this day. For me it’s about facing your fears, making order out of chaos and also about control. In true crime, you know the bad thing is coming. It can be a way to address trauma and feel less alone in it.”
Playing detective, Sera is hired by the Bards to work with the horses, a job that allows her to search for clues to Rachel’s disappearance. Her searching arouses suspicions but startlingly, she realizes that no one seems concerned about Rachel’s disappearance besides Sera. Rachel, she learns, has disappeared before and will do so again. At the ranch, Sera finds meaning not only in her investigation but in working with the horses and her developing romance with the ranch manager.
Yet that doesn’t stop her search for Rachel, or the overwhelming feelings that there are many dangerous unknowns surrounding her. Was Rachel involved with the ranch manager and what happened to his wife? Did she really go back to Texas like he says. Is it possible he’s a murderer?
Brazier, a screenwriter and journalist who lives in Los Angeles, is currently developing “If I Disappear” for television and writing another mystery.
“It’s a brutally funny thriller about very bad rich people,” she said.
This story previously appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times: