book review: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen


GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen
Berkley Books, 2017

This is a very strong contender for the worst book I have ever read. I’m not saying that lightly.

Gone Without a Trace is about Hannah, a thirty-something young woman living the dream – she’s got a house, a boyfriend, a steady job, and an imminent promotion. Until she comes home one day and finds that her boyfriend Matt has left her, in the most cold and calculated way possible – he’s moved out all of his stuff, erased his number from her phone, deleted the pictures of him off her computer, and deactivated all of his social media accounts. She literally has no way to contact him, and she has no idea why he left.

I love the premise. It sounds like a nightmare, for someone to forcibly remove him or herself from your life in such an extreme way. This book had all the potential in the world… but Mary Torjussen dropped the ball. Getting through this book was agonizing. The prose was some of the most juvenile I’ve ever seen – exclamation points everywhere and probably about 80% of the sentences starting with “I” (“I wondered why Matt would do this to me! I loved him! I needed to find him!” – those sentences are my own, but I think they condense the contents of this book rather nicely). I try not to judge thrillers on their literary merit, but come on. This was painful to read.

And on top of that, it was just insanely boring. Hannah literally spends months – about 60% of the novel – trying to track down Matt, even though all signs point to him having left voluntarily. Each of her fruitless efforts is recorded in excruciating detail – why do I care that she’s calling Matt’s barber? And now his mechanic? And now every hotel in the greater Liverpool area? (Why doesn’t she hire a private investigator? She has the money. She starts to go to such extreme lengths to find him, impersonating people, trying to trick them into divulging details; why wouldn’t she just hire a professional at this point? Nothing in this book makes sense.)

My other major annoyance throughout this book that I just want to mention briefly was Hannah’s relationship with her “best friend,” Katie. These two had one of the pettiest relationships I’ve ever seen – when will we stop depicting all female friendships as catty and competitive? That’s not real life. If you’re 32 years old and you’re still secretly trying to one-up everything your best friend does as if you’re still in middle school, maybe you should reevaluate this supposedly rock solid friendship. The characters in this book just don’t act like real people – they’re shoddy and offensive caricatures.

And then we get to the twist. No spoilers, but I just… I literally do not have the words to describe how dumb this ending was. It’s like the author was spinning a giant wheel of possible explanations including the likes of “aliens made them do it” and “it was all a dream” but instead landed on… whatever the hell we got instead. The ‘explanation’ we get to justify these characters’ behavior doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit with the information we’d had until that point, and not in the kind of way where if you went back to reread the beginning, you’d be able to read between the lines and see the truth lurking beneath. No, the explanation we get just doesn’t add up. The entire ending of this book is one big incongruous, plot hole-ridden mess. I’d have preferred the aliens, to be perfectly honest.

To impress upon you just how terrible this book was, I have to tell you that I literally started doing a dramatic reading for my roommate toward the end, because we were getting into straight up comical territory. I’m sorry, but how did this book get published? It wasn’t fast paced, it wasn’t a page turner, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t creepy, it was just… bad. I would compare this book to a soap opera, but soap operas didn’t do anything to deserve that.

I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks to the Goodreads First Reads program as well as the author and publisher for the opportunity. Sorry I didn’t click with this more!

19 thoughts on “book review: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

  1. This sounds awful, omg. But I have to say this review was really entertaining to read…I actually got kind of excited when I saw it because I love one star reviews that are critical, hahah. I wonder how these kinds of books get published?? Like how does a book editor even…become and editor if they let these kinds of books get through?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha I’m literally the same though, I LOVE reading negative reviews, even if I haven’t read the book. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s just so much fun.

      I KNOW those were the thoughts I started thinking about halfway through this book. Just… the sheer amount of people required to get a book published??? Someone had to write this, and then someone else agreed to rep it as an agent, and then someone else edited it, and then someone else okayed it for publication… I am baffled. The author apparently has an MFA in creative writing, but the prose is about on the level of a middle schooler. Complete with lines (outside of dialogue) like “you’re not gonna believe this, but…” and “and then something weird happened!” I was suffering.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is why I feel like an MFA isn’t the most credible qualification, but I suppose it can get people far?? I took creative writing classes as an undergrad and I remember one of my teachers talking extensively about how using exclamation points in prose was “evil” lol. But I don’t think people need to even go to school to be a writer, so when people who have all these education credentials and their writing is terrible I’m even more baffled. I also hate when “gonna” is used in prose, and even dialogue sometimes, omg. And actual professionals publish these things?? When I’m reading a book and wish I could edit it, that is never a good sign. I’ve actually applied to book publishing jobs in the past and have never gotten them, and then I read books like these and I’m like…honestly what does it take??

        Liked by 1 person

      • To be completely honest I can’t help but to think there’s a certain level of ‘you either have it or you don’t’ when it comes to creative writing… I mean, I’m sure the creative writing MFA can be really helpful for some people but it’s definitely not something I’d ever consider for myself. It’s just SO MUCH MONEY with no guarantee that you’ll even make it as a writer. Which I guess is true for most degrees, and I know it’s largely about the networking, but still… I feel like I have most of the tools I need available online anyway if I’m committed to becoming a better writer?!

        I definitely have aspirations of being an editor – I work in the publishing industry right now, but in a rather boring job. I’d rather be reading!! But it is so discouraging when you see books like this!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s 100% the reason I’d never go for an MFA. People can write books on their own time and find some betas online for free who will critique their work, it’s just not worth it to pay thousands to do it in a classroom. And definitely I think there’s a certain level of “either having it or you don’t,” because writing can always be improved upon, but some people just don’t have that “voice” that makes something feel real no matter what they write.

        What do you do in publishing?? I was actually hanging out in Barnes and Noble the other day and heard two women talking, and one definitely sounded like she had to be an editor or publicist or something in publishing, because she was complaining about how an author she was working with was really bad at giving her characters flaws and wouldn’t listen to her advice to put more conflict in her books. It was actually fascinating to overhear, because it sounded like the author was getting published anyway and had previous books, and it was really annoying the woman.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I work for an international book distributor, SO, basically what we do is twofold: (1) we have representation agreements with various US publishers and promote their books to our international client base (mainly in Central and South America) and get a commission off any books our customers order directly from the publisher, and (2) we provide a book order service, where we have books shipped to our office, we consolidate the shipments, and send them to our customers which cuts down on their shipping costs. So what I do is a lot of shipping and receiving, but also I spend hours every day looking up the list prices of various books to quote for our customers. And a bunch of other boring office stuff. It’s not particularly exciting but it’s been a good introduction to the inner workings of the industry! I’m more interested in either becoming an editor or a literary agent, but there aren’t many of those job opportunities in Vermont so it all comes back to me needing to get the hell out of here.

        OMG that is so interesting! That would be really frustrating to work with an author who doesn’t listen to your advice. I think the author-editor relationship is so important. I edit a lot of Hadeer’s stories and we work really well together, so I love it, but I always think about how much more painful it would be if we weren’t on the same page. I’m sure there’s a lot of that as a professional editor, where you and your author don’t totally click.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Getting into the book industry can be the hardest part, so at least you’re already in!! I’ve been trying this year, but I think I need a little more office experience, or…something. Jobs are so subjective sometimes. But all that looking stuff up online for hours every day does sound like it can get boring. In my last job I did a lot of searching the internet for travel info, and I would go out of my mind with boredom sometimes. That’s when I started writing my book reviews 😉

        As a writer or an editor it would be so difficult to not be on the same page, but I do suppose you have to roll with it to a degree. But some writer/editor relationships sound amazing, which I suspect would be such a great part of the job. A friend and I trade stories sometimes and it’s really fun being critical of each other’s work, but also being the first ones who get to see it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL to be perfectly honest most of my book reviews and blog posts are written at work. It’s the sort of job where I’m consistently busy throughout the day, but if I don’t take some personal time every now and then I’d lose my mind. Sometimes I need to do something mentally stimulating (i.e., writing reviews) when I’ve just been staring at an excel sheet with a bunch of numbers for several hours. When I think back on my retail job where I had to be standing for 8 hours a day and not allowed to have my phone on me, I’m like, how did I do that?!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ahhh I totally understand. I don’t even think I’m capable of working eight hours straight without doing little things in between. I actually recently started working a new job and I’m still working out a routine, and I’m like….I can’t wait till I know everything well enough that I can sneak in some blogging. Lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Blogging time should be scheduled into everyone’s workday tbh. I don’t know how people can work straight through the day with no breaks, I’d lose my mind!!!


  2. As sorry as I am that you had so suffer through this awful book, I do so love reading your negative reviews! This was a particularly fun review to read! Fingers crossed your next read is much much better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • THANKS. I have to admit I loved writing this review. I was so tempted to get into spoiler territory because there is some GREAT stuff I could have posted, but I felt it was my duty first and foremost to protect people who haven’t read it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] 5. Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  This is arguably the worst book I’ve ever read from a purely objective level, but the reason it doesn’t get the #1 spot is that it was at times so (unintentionally) hilarious.  It’s a thriller about a woman whose boyfriend leaves her – literally vanishes without a trace – and she has no idea why he left.  Now, I love thrillers, but I don’t exactly go into them expecting the next Great American Novel.  I wasn’t expecting that of Gone Without a Trace.  (Not least of all because it’s British.)  But I had been expecting something fun, fast-paced, creepy, and addicting… it was none of those things.  It was 300-odd pages of the main character’s insufferable whining in prose that was at about a 14-year-old’s creative writing level, and it culminated in arguably the stupidest twist in thriller history.  The last 50 pages have just about everything you could ask for if you’re trying to write the silliest and most melodramatic book of all time: characters conveniently falling into comas, ‘shocking’ (aka not shocking at all) affairs revealed, a central plotline being rendered completely inconsequential, the main character withholding information from the reader until it becomes convenient to divulge it, even though it’s written in first-person… I don’t say this a lot, because even when I hate a book I can usually find some merit in it, but how did this get published?!  Full review HERE. […]


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