How far would you go for your family? What’s the ultimate sacrifice you’d be willing to make for them? How do is your belief system, and what would you do to support your beliefs?
Michael Kardos has taken those basic questions and stretched them into a taut thriller, “Before He Finds Her,” a story about a man, his family and a crime no one knows how to deal with.
First, you need to know that the author is an extremely creative individual. He shares his talents with not only his readers, but with students at Mississippi State University. As an associate professor of English, he teaches creative writing and American literature. He knows what makes a story stay in your head long after the last page is read.
He’s honed his craft with a guide for writers, a collection of short stories, a novel in 2012, and now “Before He Finds Her,” a novel about family, anger, devotion and mystery.
In late 1991, Ramsey Miller murdered his wife and 3-year-old daughter after hosting a block party. He’s never been charged, though, because no one can find him. And no one ever found the little girl’s body. She’s still alive.
Fifteen years later, Melanie Denison is tired of living under what she assumes is the Witness Protection Program. She wants to live – go to movies, browse the internet, enroll in college, do all the things people do if they have a “normal” life. He’s always been told her murderous father is still free, and ready to ruin her life. Her few attempts at freedom have left her 10 weeks pregnant, and she’s ready to escape her cocoon. She doesn’t want her baby leaving under the same isolation and secrets that have encased her.
She learns away, returning to Silver Bay, N.J., in hopes of learning what happened that awful Sunday night and then finding her father before he locates her. She finds an ally in an elderly journalist who has been fascinated by the case since its earliest days. What Melanie discovers is more mystery, more intrigue – and more lies, yet few answers. Her father had his bad points, especially jealousy and anger issues, but was he a bad man?
Kardos focuses on the three days leading up to the block party and murder. From there, he heads forward, putting his laser focus on the aftermath of murder and how crime and fear distort even the smallest details. The plot unfolds delicately, letting the reader savor – and interpret – what’s going on in his own way.
The author puts together the story, details the ending, but leaves the final message up to the reader. As the last page is turned, you’ll catch yourself thinking, “What would I do?”
ARC provided by Netgalley
Conversation with the author
What is your current role at MSU? How long?
I’m an associate professor of English, where I teach creative writing and American literature. This is my eighth year there. Still married to Catherine Pierce, poet extraordinaire.
“The Three-Day Affair” was a crime-based thriller. How would describe “Before He Finds Her?”
Psychological suspense? Coming-of-age thriller? As with The Three-Day Affair, I really just tried to write the kind of novel I’d want to read.
You’ve chosen to set both novels far from Mississippi. How do you choose a location setting?
I needed it set near, but not in, New York City, and New Jersey happens to be where I’m originally from. I find myself returning to that geography because I know it so well. Having grown up there, it’s pretty deeply rooted in my subconscious.
Ramsey Miller (in “Before He Finds Her” is definitely a lost soul – until he marries. What does “family” mean to him, especially since he’s still a wanderer behind the wheel?
Family means everything to him, though I don’t think he knows that until he has one and it’s being threatened. A threat to the stability of his family means that he might become lost yet again, and that is something he is terrified of, because ultimately he is terrified of himself.
What do you consider the major differences between your two novels? Any similarities? In writing style, voice, etc.?
They both revolve around a crime, of course. But while The Three-Day Affair is like a tight puzzle, Before He Finds Her is more expansive. Tonally, it has less of a noir feel. Going along with that, I believe the new novel has a larger emotional palette.
Still figuring that out. As of this moment, it is possibly a novel that takes place in an art museum. Dare I say that there is a theft?