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Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?


Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?

Only a few short days before Christmas in East Anglia, the Salter family gathers to celebrate patriarch Alec Salter’s 50th birthday. Elizabeth (“Etty”) and her brothers would rather be anywhere else on that particular evening. Etty is keeping an eye out for her mother, Charlotte, so she can have proof of Etty’s appearance before the 15-year-old ducks out to attend a friend’s party. As the evening progresses, Charlotte hasn’t arrived, and Etty is overcome with worry. Her father’s nonchalance and her brothers’ impassivity only anger her.

The police are soon alerted to Charlotte’s disappearance but appear disinterested until her coat turns up adjacent to a nearby riverbank. The possibilities of foul play or suicide are now considered by law enforcement. As each day passes, the Salter children grow increasingly anxious about their mother's well-being and aggravated by Alec’s aloofness regarding this dire situation. The building discord between Alec and his kids hits a fever pitch when he prevaricates during his interview with the police.

"...a wonderfully absorbing mystery... Nicci French deftly conveys the underlying tension that palpably runs through the Salter family."

One of the closer families to the Salters are the Ackerleys. Greg and Morgan Ackerley attended the now-infamous birthday party and are also friends of the Salter children. The Salters are invited to spend Christmas with the Ackerleys, a temporary reprieve from the confines of their divided household. Despite the Ackerleys' best intentions, a cruel fate intrudes on the holiday, and both families are soon united in tragedy and grief. As the year 1990 draws to a close, the Salters are left with more questions, doubts and suspicions.

There is a saying that “time heals all wounds.” However, this axiom doesn’t resonate with the Salter clan. A rift develops in the aftermath of Charlotte’s disappearance that has never been repaired. Thirty-two years later, this divide is still apparent as Etty and her two remaining brothers reunite to prepare the family house for sale. Despite wanting to dispense with the past, they learn that a podcast is being produced that will examine Charlotte’s disappearance. Etty wants no part of it, but the podcast soon develops a life of its own. The true crime phenomenon reignites the law enforcement effort to investigate the case, with every lead and possible suspect being reexamined.

HAS ANYONE SEEN CHARLOTTE SALTER? is a wonderfully absorbing mystery from Nicci French. The whereabouts of the title character becomes one of a few captivating conundrums posed throughout this tantalizing storyline. Etty enters the novel as a teenager wanting to be seen as more mature. The dramatic turn of events in the waning days of 1990 unceremoniously thrusts this maturity upon her. By 2022, she has become a stolid businesswoman separated from her family. She is hoping her involvement with the sale of the house will close a chapter in her life, but subsequent events show that closure is illusory.

Nicci French deftly conveys the underlying tension that palpably runs through the Salter family. The book thrives in building up multiple mysteries over the first two-thirds of the story while bringing in an equally compelling character in the latter half who is tasked with locating the answers to the enigmas.

Reviewed by Philip Zozzaro on March 29, 2024

Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?
by Nicci French