Amateur detective hopes to make a difference

Lisa Gardner

No one believed Frankie Elkin when she said Lana Whitehorse was at the bottom of the lake, and for a moment, as Frankie swam through the cloudy waters, oxygen almost gone and unable see the truck Lana had been driving on the night she disappeared, she wondered if maybe they’d been right.

But no, there were the remains of Lana, her truck upside down in the muck, her blonde hair floating in the water.

Now that Frankie has found Lana, a deed she did without expectation of pay, she returns to the internet looking for another missing person. She has no training, no detective license and no connection to the person she is looking for. She doesn’t even have a home or friends. Her next choice is Angelique Lovelie Badeau, a Haitian teenager who lived with brother and aunt in Mattapan, a crime-ridden neighborhood in Boston.

One day, Angelique, a sweet girl and good student, didn’t come home. Later her school bag and cell phone were found hidden in the bushes outside of her school. Her family hopes she’ll be home soon but that was almost a year ago.

Frankie hopes if she locates Angelique the ending will turn out differently than it has with the other 16 people she has found — all of whom were dead.

“There are people out there like Frankie who spend their time looking for missing people,” said Lisa Gardner, author of “Before She Disappeared” (Dutton 2021; $27). “There are dog handlers who volunteer to have their dogs search for missing people for free, pilots who fly their planes over areas where someone has gone missing, and those who use their computer and social media skills to help — all for free.”

Gardner, a New York Times best selling crime novelist, goes deep on the web when looking for true crime plots on which to base her mysteries.

“I like to think of it as research, not procrastination,” said Gardner, who has written more than 30 novels, four of which have been made into movies.

This time, instead of choosing a criminal case to turn into fiction, Gardner’s inspiration came about after reading about Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, who grew frustrated by the number of women going missing on tribal lands and the lack of resources, or even interest, in finding them. Yellowbird-Chase founded the citizen-led Sahnish Scouts, which is dedicated to finding justice for missing people and their families.

“The idea that one person, without any special training or background, can make such a difference amazed me,” she said. “And it’s what brings recovering alcoholic Frankie Elkin to Mattapan, where a Haitian girl went missing 11 months ago. I had no idea the surveillance that goes on in a big city, so 11 months later I realized what this is was almost a closed room case: How does anyone disappear in a city?”

Gardner said she is not a plotter, instead she introduces her characters and then as she writes their personalities take over to tell the story. It was trying to determine what made Frankie tick that got her out of bed each morning to start the day’s writing.

“Before She Disappeared” is Gardner’s first standalone novel in more than 20 years.

“But I’ve failed at writing standalone,” she said, “because I’m already writing the next book about Frankie.”

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