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Brenda Chapman
When Last Seen
Ottawa is baking under a July heatwave when the Homicide and Major Crimes Unit is called to help track down missing three-year-old Charlie McGowan. This is the second missing person case in nine months — a university exchange student never made it back to her Carleton University residence from a downtown party in November. At first, the two disappearances appear unrelated, but as true crime podcaster Ella Tate and Detective Liam Hunter dig deeper into both files, unsettling relationships begin to emerge. Evidence, however, remains frustratingly out of reach as the clock keeps ticking and concern for both missing victims takes on a heightened urgency. And then Liam Hunter gets a call that a body’s been found on the Ottawa River Parkway …
Chapman’s second in the Hunter and Tate Mystery series, which follows 2022’s Blind Date, wows with well-crafted tension and original characters. In a genteel Ottawa neighborhood, Ginger McGowan steps away from her three-year-old son Charlie for only five minutes. When she returns, he’s disappeared. Days pass without his body recovered or a ransom call, leaving Detective Liam Hunter and crime reporter Ella Tate at a loss. But Charlie’s father, David McGowan, and David’s awkward teen daughter, Sara McGowan, have secrets that tie Charlie’s disappearance to that of a Chinese exchange student eight months before. When Sara finally talks, scandalous truths tumble out until a taut climax leaves the reader breathless.

This installment stands on its own, seamlessly introducing characters old and new. Chapman elegantly handles a sizable cast of nuanced suspects and good guys, which boosts readers’ interest in the whodunnit puzzle up another level. Intrepid, empathetic journalist and podcaster Ella blasts the stereotype of a tailored newspaper woman—her friends tease about her uncontrollable hair and austere apartment—while the inscrutable yet deep-hearted Hunter is a refreshingly three-dimensional cop who can’t decide whether he’s attracted to Ella and her green eyes. Another engaging character, Sara, David’s daughter with an ex-wife he cheated on, almost steals the show with her Harriet-the-Spy habits and lonely personality that endears her to Ella.

Chapman never wallows in depressing predictions about the missing child. Instead, the tone honors parents’ fear without straying into the morose or punishing. “Liam… [tried] to keep the heaviness from overpowering the slim thread of hope” reflects the extent of depicted worry. Literary sleight-of-hand comes naturally to Chapman, and the culprit could be one of many poker-faced or temperamental suspects as in any worthy mystery-thriller. A tryst with an escort, a traumatizing roofie, a naive vigilante, and plenty of delectable surprises make When Last Seen a treat for mystery readers.

Takeaway: Procedural and mystery lovers will enjoy the puzzle and appealing cast.

Comparable Titles: Kathy Reichs, D.S. Butler.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A