“Blue Velvet” has its severed ear, “The Big Lebowski” has its severed toe, and “No One Will Miss Her” has its severed nose. While Kat Rosenfield’s first thriller for adults earns favorable comparison with those iconic neo-noirs, her book takes a big step outside the genre’s borders in order to say something vital about poverty, snobbery and the unique costs to women of those particular scourges.

The novel’s evocation of classic crime films doesn’t end with the nose. “No One Will Miss Her” begins with a prologue conjuring Sunset Boulevard: “My name is Lizzie Ouellette, and if you’re reading this, I’m already dead.” Lizzie proceeds to describe her past as the “junkyard jezebel” of her luckless hometown of Copper Falls, Maine; as one character puts it, “Not even the yearly influx of tourists could reverse the town’s protracted death from neglect.” Life in Copper Falls has been especially unkind to Lizzie, who lost her mother when she was a child and grew up in a trailer with her junkyard-owning, hard-drinking father. As a kid she was ostracized, her cat brutalized. As she sees it, she has always been regarded as “the trash that this town should’ve taken out years ago.”

The book’s wandering point of view walks readers through Deputy Myles Johnson’s visit to the house beside Copperbrook Lake from whose garbage disposal he retrieves the nose. That October morning, Deputy Johnson was making the rounds with an evacuation order: Lizzie’s dad’s junkyard, located nearby, was on fire, putting neighbors at risk. The lake house – a rental property – belongs to Lizzie and her husband, Dwayne Cleaves, owner of a small landscaping business; the nose in the kitchen sink belongs to the mutilated body in the bedroom whose cause of death was a single face-shattering gunshot. Notes Lizzie, “They all thought I was better off dead.”

When the Maine State Police’s Detective Ian Bird comes on the scene, Deputy Johnson, a longtime friend of Dwayne’s, insists that the guy wouldn’t have killed his wife. Detective Bird isn’t so sure: given that there’s no sign of forced entry or property theft at the lake house, the murder “had all the hallmarks of a domestic dispute,” thinks Bird, “something deeply, horribly personal.” Unfortunately for Bird, Dwayne can’t be located for questioning.

Detective Bird’s interest is piqued when Lizzie’s rental records show that the house’s last occupants were Adrienne and Ethan Richards, who, Lizzie informs readers, is “one of those fancy, white-collar bad guys who floats away on a golden parachute and lands gently in a pile of cash while the company he looted burns to the ground.” There was no indictment against Ethan, so he has paid not a jot for the financial scandal he precipitated.

As for Adrienne, over the two summers that the Richardses rented the lake house, Lizzie got to know the trophy wife and came to understand her to be a comprehensively loathsome human being, someone abjectly untroubled by her husband’s immorality. And yet for a person like Lizzie, who has been earmarked as worthless from day one, Adrienne’s life has an aspirational aspect; as Lizzie puts it, “This is the saddest part: there was some pathetic piece of me that still wanted to be that someone.” Adrienne is quite a someone – not just a Real Housewife “type,” but, Detective Bird gleans from her Wikipedia page, someone who was actually being considered for a Real Housewives series before her husband’s scandal obliterated her chances.

Rosenfield so deftly engineers her novel’s central twist, which falls ax-like toward the book’s midsection, that her plotting rises to the level of architecture. By this point in the story, the mystery element gives way to a sustained thrum of suspense: will Detective Bird figure out what readers already know? This dynamic calls to mind the best that Alfred Hitchcock had to offer, with Detective Bird as Psycho’s private investigator Arbogast, or in the Chief Inspector Hubbard role in “Dial M for Murder.” In the hands of a director as adept as the Master of Suspense, “No One Will Miss Her” could be a powerhouse on the big screen, and boy is Lizzie Ouellette, eternally unappreciated, ready for her close-up.

Nell Beram is a former Atlantic staff editor and coauthor of “Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies.” She’s a frequent contributor to Bright Lights Film Journal, Salon, and Shelf Awareness.


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