"McMahon expertly ratchets up the suspense, but it’s her full-blooded characters that make this thriller stand out from the serial killer pack.”
"Haunting and harrowing, The One I Left Behind offers enthralling suspense but also so much more: a richly poignant tale of the families we're born into and the ones we build ourselves."
- Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
"Grippingly plotted, this intricate, character-driven story seamlessly shifts time as McMahon explores such favorite themes as dark familial secrets, flawed relationships, and the potentially destructive power of sex, all anchored in a vividly evoked suburban Connecticut landscape. You won’t soon forget Reggie, fierce yet fragile, but likely to stick with you even longer is the central conundrum of the extent to which our pasts enslave us and how much we can set ourselves free."
- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"McMahon scores a solid touchdown in this creepy but engrossing thriller.... Readers will find themselves unable to turn the pages fast enough in this perfectly penned thriller."
- Kirkus (starred review)
Reggie has told almost no one about the summer of 1985.
She was thirteen, awkward, her only friends the school outcasts -- Charlie, the shy son of a local detective, and Tara, a goth kid who harbors a dark secret. That summer a serial killer known as Neptune began abducting women in their sleepy Connecticut suburb and leaving their severed hands on the steps of the police department. Exactly five days later, the women’s bodies are found. When Reggie’s mother, Vera -- an ex-model with many “boyfriends” and a thirst for gin -- disappears and her hand shows up at the police station, Reggie, Charlie and Tara plunge into a seedy world of dive bars and pay-by-the-hour motels trying to find her. But after five days, there’s no body, and the murders stop. Both Vera and Neptune seem to have vanished.
Twenty-five years later, Reggie is an award-winning architect with a seemingly perfect --if a bit lonely -- life when she learns that Vera has turned up alive in a homeless shelter. Vera is confused, speaking in riddles and nursery rhymes, unable (or unwilling) to explain where she’s been all these years. It’s up to Reggie to sift through the clues in her own past, unravel her mother’s riddles, and find Neptune before he kills again.
The first thing she does when she wakes up is check her hands. She doesn’t know how long she’s been out. Hours? Days? She’s on her back, blindfolded, arms up above her head like a diver, bound to a metal pipe. Her hands are duct taped together at the wrist -- but they’re both still there. Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin?
Thank you, thank you, thank Jesus, sweet, sweet Mother Mary, both her hands are there. She wiggles her fingers and remembers a song her mother used to sing:
Here I am, Here I am,
How are you today, Sir,
Very well, I thank you,
Run away, Run away.
Her ankles are bound together tightly – more duct tape;her feet are full of pins and needles.
She hears Neptune breathing and it sounds almost mechanical, the rasping rhythm of it: in, out, in, out. Chug, chug, puff, puff. I think I can, I think I can.
Neptune takes off the blindfold and the light hurts her eyes. All she sees is a dark silhouette above her and it’s not Neptune’s face she sees inside it, but all faces: her mother’s, her father’s, Luke the baker from the donut shop, her high school boyfriend who never touched her, but liked to jerk off while she watched. She sees the stained glass face of Jesus, the eyes of the woman with no legs who used to beg for money outside of Denny’s during the breakfast rush. All these faces are spinning like a top on Neptune’s head and she has to close her eyes because if she looks too long, she’ll get dizzy and throw up.
Neptune smiles down at her, teeth bright as a crescent moon.
She tries to turn her head, but her neck aches from their struggle earlier, and she can only move a fraction of an inch before the pain brings her to a screeching halt. They seem to be in some sort of warehouse. Cold cement floor. Curved metal walls laced with electrical conduit. Boxes everywhere. Old machinery. The place smells like a country fair -- rotten fruit, grease, burned sugar, hay.
“It didn’t need to be this way,” Neptune says, head shaking, clicking tongue against teeth, scolding.
Neptune walks around her in a circle, whistling. It’s almost a dance, with a little spring in each step, a little skip. Neptune’s shoes are cheap imitation leather, scratched to shit, the tread worn smooth helping them glide across the floor. All at once, Neptune freezes, eyeing her a moment longer, then quits whistling, turns and walks away. Footsteps echo on the cement floor. The door closes with a heavy wooden thud. A bolt slides closed, a lock is snapped.
Gone. For now.
The tools are all laid out on a tray nearby: clamps, rubber tourniquet, scalpel, small saw, propane torch, metal trowel, rolls of gauze, thick surgical pads, heavy white tape. Neptune’s left these things where she can see them. It’s all part of the game.
Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch. Son a bitch.
Stop, she tells herself. Don’t panic. Think.
Tomorrow morning, another hand will show up inside a milk carton on the steps of the police station. Only this time, it will be her hand. She looks at the saw, swallows hard, and closes her eyes.
Think, damn it.
She struggles with the tape around her wrists, but it’s no good.
She opens her eyes and they go back to the tools, the bandages, the saw with its row of tiny silver teeth.
She hears a moan to her left. Slowly, like an arthritic old woman, she turns her head so that her left cheek rests on the cool, damp floor.
“You!” she says, surprised but relieved.
The woman is taped to a cast iron pipe on the opposite side of the warehouse. “I can get us out of this,” she promises. The woman lifts her head, opens her swollen eyes.
The woman laughs, her split lip opening up, covering her chin with blood. “We’re both dead, Dufrane,” she says, her voice small and crackling, a fire that can’t get started.