Missing Pieces

Missing Pieces

by Heather Gudenkauf


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A woman uncovers earth-shattering secrets about her husband's family in this chilling page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf

Sarah Quinlan's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. For years Jack has avoided returning home, but when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.

Upon arriving, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago. But as facts about Julia's accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack's past, but the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780778319313
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Edition description: Original
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 334,893
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and Not a Sound. Heather lives in Iowa with her family.

Read an Excerpt

The call, like many of its kind, had come in the early hours of the morning, waking Jack and Sarah from a dead sleep. Jack's hand had snaked from beneath the covers, fumbling for the phone. He grunted a sleepy hello, listened for a moment, then sat up suddenly alert.

"Is it the girls?" Sarah asked as she turned on the bedside lamp. They had dropped the girls off at the University of Montana just a few weeks earlier and Sarah's worst fear was receiving an early-morning call like this. Jack shook his head and Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.

"It's Julia," Jack said after hanging up, his voice thick with emotion. "She had a fall. I need to go home."

Now, as their airplane ascended into the blue Montana sky, Sarah settled into her seat and gazed down at the expansive landscape below. The mountains, tipped with white, seemed to burst from the trees, while rivers meandered across the earth and deep lakes glittered in the midmorning September sun. Though she had grown up in Larkspur, she never tired of its beauty and she hated leaving, even for just a short time. She and Jack hadn't strayed from Montana in years, saw no need to travel to exotic lands, to ocean coasts or dry deserts. All they needed they found in their home on Larkspur Lake.

She looked over at Jack, who was shifting in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position for his long legs. The crosshatched lines that rested at the corners of his eyes had become more pronounced overnight, and two deep grooves above the bridge of his nose extended to his forehead like a ladder of worry. She had seen this same look on his face when the first of their twin daughters, Elizabeth, was born and had waited a full sixty seconds, an eternity, to take her first breath. Saw the same expression when their other daughter, Emma, took a nasty tumble from her bike and came to them crying, her elbow dangling helplessly at her side. She knew that look. Jack was scared.

She wished there was something that she could say to ease his nerves, but Jack was a reserved man who kept his worries to himself. She reached for his hand and absentmindedly he fiddled with her wedding band, spinning it around and around her finger like a talisman. "When do you think we'll get to Penny Gate?" Sarah asked.

Jack checked his watch and mentally calculated the distance to the small Iowa town where he grew up. "I'd say we'll get there about seven if we go straight to the hospital. Uncle Hal said they stabilized Julia in the emergency room and now she's in the ICU."

"From what you've told me about your aunt, if anyone can pull through such a bad fall, it's Julia. Thank God your sister found her so quickly."

"Yeah, if Amy showed up at the house any later, I don't know if she would still be alive." Jack went silent then, as if lost in thought, focusing intently on the seat in front of him.

Sarah could hear the worry in his voice. What would they find when they arrived in Penny Gate? Would his aunt be awake and grateful to see him or would she succumb to her injuries and not survive the night? "We'll be there soon," Sarah assured him.

"You know, it's been twenty years since I've been home. After the accident, I just couldn't go back there. Hal and Julia took us in and treated us as their own, and I couldn't even be bothered to visit in all these years."

Jack rarely spoke of his life in Penny Gate, of the years before the accident that took the lives of both his parents. He kept those memories well hidden, the only part of himself that was off-limits to Sarah. All she really knew was that on a rainy spring night the year Jack turned fifteen, his mother and father climbed into their rusty old pickup truck and Jack never saw either of them again.

Jack had been her physical therapist, treating Sarah's injured shoulder after her own car accident, and after twelve painful but productive rehab sessions he announced that he had done all he could for her, at least physical-therapy-wise, then promptly asked her out on a date.

She remembered the night Jack told her about the accident as if it was burned in her memory. They had been dating for about a month and spent the weekend kayaking on Deer Lake, three hours north of Minneapolis. It was a warm summer night; the sun was beginning to set, a large gilded orb melting into the lake's horizon. They were in no rush to return to shore and laid their paddles across their laps and drifted languidly across the water.

Sarah, at the front of the kayak, gently waved away mosquitoes that hummed past her ear and asked Jack about the night his parents had died. She wasn't sure why he chose that moment to answer; he had sidestepped her questions so many times before. Perhaps it was because in the rear of the kayak she couldn't see his face. Perhaps it was the remote location; they hadn't seen another boat in hours. The only sound was the gentle slap of water against the side of the kayak. Jack had breathed the details of the story in staccato, short-clipped phrases that seemed to punch the air from his chest: He was drinking again. I should have stopped her. Stopped him. The roads were wet.

Sarah wanted to turn and reach for Jack but forced herself to remain facing forward in the kayak, afraid that any movement would cause him to stop talking.

He flipped the truck. Upside down in a cornfield. Killed instantly.

Jack's breath came out in jagged chuffs and Sarah could tell that he was crying. Slowly, carefully, as one might to a skittish animal, she reached behind her and found Jack's hand.

A year later they were married, she quit her job as a reporter and they moved to Larkspur to begin a family. In the past twenty years Sarah had wanted to ask Jack so many questions. Not just about the accident and the years that followed, but about what his life was like before his parents died. Simple questions. Did he look more like his mother or his father? What books did she read to him before bedtime or did she call him by a pet name? Did his father teach him to bait a hook or skip rocks across a pond? But every time she broached the subject, Jack would find a way to avoid the conversation. He wouldn't let her in.

Jack released Sarah's hand and ran his fingers through his gray-flecked hair, a nervous gesture that she knew he would repeat a hundred times before they landed. "I shouldn't have waited so long to come back," he murmured.

Jack jiggled his leg up and down, striking the back of the seat with his knee. The man in front of him turned around and glowered with irritation. Jack didn't notice.

"I'm sure they understand," Sarah said, laying a hand on his leg to still it. But she wondered if Jack's aunt and uncle truly understood how the boy they took into their home could stay away for nearly two decades.

"I should have called her back." Jack's voice caught and he cleared his throat. "It just slipped my mind and I knew she'd call again in a few days." Jack's aunt, without fail, called the house each Sunday evening to check in and catch up on the events of their week. But the previous Sunday they were out for a walk and had missed Julia's call. She had left a message on their machine, but it was late when they returned home and Jack had forgotten to call back the following day.

When they came home and listened to the message, Sarah had thought she detected a shakiness in Julia's voice, a tremor that made her think of Parkinson's. At the time she had dismissed it, but now she wondered if she should have said something to Jack.

"Do you think that Julia sounded different the last few times she called?" Sarah asked, pulling her cardigan more tightly around herself to stave off the plane's chilly temperature.

Jack narrowed his eyes as if mentally shuffling through recent conversations with his aunt. "I don't think so. What do you mean?"

Sarah hesitated. "I'm not sure. Has Hal said anything about any health concerns?"

"No, but that doesn't mean she hasn't had any problems," Jack admitted. He tilted his head back against the headrest and stared up at the plane's ceiling. "I can't believe they still live in that house," he said, changing the subject. "It's too big for two people. And those steps. They're so steep. I tripped down them all the time when I was a kid. I just can't believe that someone hasn't had a bad fall before now. The place is a death trap."

Jack crossed his arms in front of his chest and burrowed more deeply into his seat. "We used to go to this pond," he said as she slid her hand through his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. The comforting scent of his shaving cream and the starch used to iron his shirt filled her nose. "Aunt Julia would pack these elaborate picnics. Strawberries that we'd spent hours picking and pickled herring on crackers, cheese with names we couldn't pronounce and her homemade bread." Jack's voice sounded far away and Sarah hung on his words. "Then we'd all climb into the back of Uncle Hal's truck and drive down the old mud road to the pond. We'd sit on the bank and fish for hours and would end up with just a few bluegills, a bass if we were lucky. Julia would make a big deal out of each one we caught, though, clapping her hands and jumping up and down."

Sarah thought about the times they had taken Elizabeth and Emma fishing. The girls squealing over the wiggling worms that Jack used to bait their hooks. Their delight at Jack pretending to buckle beneath the weight of their catches.

"Sometimes I can still taste those strawberries." Jack smiled sadly and Sarah squeezed his hand.

"It must be hard going back," Sarah reflected. "Lots of memories."

He nodded tentatively, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips. "Everything seemed so simple then. Easier somehow." Jack turned to the window then and looked out at the far-reaching landscape below. The world was endless from this vantage point, full of infinite wonder and possibility, and Jack drifted off in thought as he took in the view.

"I remember on stormy summer nights," he started, his voice tinged with sadness. "When the power would go out, my mom would scavenge through the cupboards and drawers looking for flashlights." Sarah's breath caught in her chest. Jack never spoke about his parents. Ever.

"Amy and I would grab the clean sheets from the clothesline just before the rain began to fall. Then we'd throw them over the furniture to make forts. We'd pretend the flashlights were our campfire and tell each other stories…"

Jack looked as if he was going to say more but instead he rubbed his hand across his mouth as if wiping away the thought. He turned back from the window and leaned his head against the headrest and closed his eyes.

Sarah wanted to press for more, but she knew this fleeting moment of reminiscence was over.

As the airplane carried them away from the life they had made together, she watched Jack doze. Behind his closed eyelids she knew that a thousand secret memories drifted. She wanted him to let her in, to know that he was safe. Safe with her. Maybe she couldn't erase all the sadness and bitterness he was carrying. But she could be there for him and help him through the pain.

Despite the sad circumstances of their trip to Penny Gate, Sarah was looking forward to seeing the town Jack grew up in. She wanted to drive along the roads that he once traveled, to see the bedroom that he once slept in, to spend time with his family, whom she had only gotten to know over the years through phone calls and birthday cards. She thought it might bring her closer to him.

She let Jack rest until the pilot's voice filled the airplane cabin, announcing their impending arrival in Chicago. The fasten-seat-belt light blinked on, and she lightly nudged Jack awake. Down below, the blue expanse of Lake Michigan was edged by miles of skyscrapers. Each drop in altitude was jarring, and Sarah's stomach churned. She reached for Jack's hand and closed her eyes, squeezing his fingers tightly until finally the wheels touched the runway.

They had only fifteen minutes to get to their gate in time to catch their connecting flight to the small airport near Penny Gate, and Sarah scurried to keep up with Jack's long strides as they wove their way through crowds of travelers, her carry-on bag bumping along behind her.

When they arrived at their gate, they joined the line of passengers to board their connecting flight. Jack quickly called Hal for an update on Julia's condition.

"She hasn't woken up yet," he reported grimly when he hung up the phone. "She's back from X-ray and she has a skull fracture, a broken pelvis and both arms are fractured."

Sarah handed her boarding pass to the gate agent. "That's terrible. Does she need surgery?"

"I don't know. Not yet, anyway. They're watching her closely to make sure there isn't any bleeding on her brain."

They were the last of the fifty passengers to board the full flight. Because of their late booking Sarah's seat was three rows behind Jack and across the aisle.

It was just a short thirty-minute flight to the small regional airport near Penny Gate, and as they got closer to their destination, Sarah watched from afar as Jack seemed to grow more and more restless. His foot tapped nervously and he kept checking his watch. Sarah knew that a million thoughts were banging around Jack's head. He hadn't seen his aunt and uncle in twenty years. How would they receive him? With open arms or cold reservation? Jack was returning to the town where he was born and raised but whose roads had taken his parents away from him. Anxiety seemed to radiate from his body and Sarah wanted to go to him, to reassure him that everything was going to be okay, and if it wasn't she would be right there beside him.

Sarah peered out the window as they descended. Jack was right. He had told her that Iowa had a beauty all its own, and the landscape was a patchwork of verdant greens, golden yellows and rich browns.

When they landed, Jack waited for Sarah at the end of the jet bridge. "Are you okay?" Sarah asked with concern. His skin had taken on a sickly hue.

"Just a little airsick," Jack explained as they went in search of a rental car.

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Missing Pieces 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little different
eternalised More than 1 year ago
The plot was decent, but I didn’t care that much about the characters. Not all of the characters were as developed as they could’ve been, the relationship between Sarah and Jack was weird, they didn’t act like a married couple at all, and Sarah’s behavior was often unrealistic. The ending was worth it, though, and it was a pleasant read nonetheless. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
lipplounge More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! This is one of those books that is difficult to put down! As the twists and turns take place the tension begins to build; the ending was quite surprising. If you figure out who "done-it" before the final chapter, you should be proud. Having read several of Gudenkauf's book, I can honestly say this is my favorite.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
Sarah and Jack Quinlan have been married for 20 years. When Jack was 15, there was a car accident that left both his parents dead. His Aunt Julia stepped up to raise both him and his sister Amy. But there is something about this accident that Jack doesn’t seem to have gotten over. Then they get the phone call from Julia is in the hospital after a bad fall. Both Sarah and Jack leave there home in Montana to return to Penny Gate, Iowa. Penny Gate is a small town and it seems that there are some things that happened to Jack that are starting to come to the surface. It seems that there is more than a car wreck that killed Jack’s mother and Sarah wants to find out what really happened. Jack is not forthcoming with the information so she has to go digging herself to find out the truth. When Sarah learns that there is more to Jack than she has known she is rather upset. If he could keep such a secret about his mother’s death, what else has he kept from her? She takes it upon herself to find out what really happens. I do find it highly unlikely that Margaret would just give Sarah the case file like she did, small town or not. I have to say that I had a little bit of a hard time with this book. I don’t know exactly what it was that bothered me or if it was the overall story. Jack and Sarah don’t seem like a couple that has been together for 20 years. I understand how Jack doesn’t want to relive everything concerning his mother but I have to say that Sarah’s pursuit for the truth and her subsequent attitude kind of bothered me. I understand her wanting to know that truth but she was getting rather annoying about it. This is not a bad book. I did like the mystery of what happened to Jack’s mother. The dialog is a bit lacking but this would be a good book for a read. I received Missing Pieces for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
PagesofComfort More than 1 year ago
4.5 Stars! I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I've read just about all of Gudenkauf's work (just missing 1 I think!) and I'm a big fan. I think The Weight of Silence might be my favorite of hers, but I can't really decide! This book didn't disappoint, either. From the minute I began reading this book, I was hooked. From the very beginning, you're thrown into the story. Sarah thinks she knows her husband really well, but once they're in Penny Gate for a few hours, she realizes there are things she really doesn't know everything about her husband. Jack's past slowly comes out throughout the story and you not only have to figure out what happened to his aunt Julia, but what happened to his parents as well. Throughout the whole book, I thought I knew what happened. Little things throughout the story made me think I was right. There were a few times I changed my mind and looked somewhere else (should have stayed on that path!) but then I went back to another theory. Turns out, I was wrong. But that's really one of my favorite things about mysteries. I love not being able to figure it out what happened. I mean, sometimes it's fun, but I like being surprised and I really was in this book. The characters were all very interesting. Each had their own quirks, each had traits that annoyed me, and then most of them had traits that I liked. Gudenkauf did a great job of balancing these characteristics for each person. Sarah was a great main character and I think the doubts she had throughout the story were very realistic, something This really was a great book. I loved everything about it and was really interested throughout the whole story. Pagesofcomfort.blogspot.com
Charmed-Reflections More than 1 year ago
Gudenkauf does an astounding job of weaving heart-wrenching emotion and brilliant detail into a gripping tale of intrigue and betrayal! A small town murder and a marriage full of lies set the stage for this action-packed thriller that is sure to lead audiences on a journey of discovery, death, and deceit that’s sure to excite. From beginning to glorious end, Missing Pieces is one page-turner you won’t want to miss!
booklover- More than 1 year ago
This book looks at a woman who has been married 20 years to a man she knows inside and out ... or so she thinks. Sarah and Jack are called back to Jack's hometown. His aunt, who raised him as second mother, has been terribly hurt and is in a coma. Jack's mother and father were killed when he was a teenager. When he was old enough, he left and never looked back. When his aunt dies in the hospital, the sheriff starts looking at the family as prime suspects. Top of the list is Jack's sister, Amy. Amy drinks too much and she's angry all the time. She's the one who found her aunt laying at the bottom of the basement stairs. Then there is Jack ... this won't be the first time he's been looked at when someone has died. There is his cousin who is now married to Jack's high school girlfriend. Little by little, Sarah learns some shocking information about Jack. Being a former investigative reporter, Sarah's first instinct is to find out the truth. But sometimes learning the truth can be hazardous to your health. There is suspense, but it doesn't seem to reach the heights I would like. I liked Sarah - she's gutsy and brazen, yet there were times she came across as being a bit of weakling when dealing with her husband's lies. Jack was okay ... he comes across as being secretive, which was the author's intent, but his justifications for his lies just weren't all that believable to me. The cousin is a bully and his wife seems to want to cause problems for Sarah and Jack. Not a bad read, just not great. 3.5 Stars Many thanks to the author / Harlequin (US & Canada) / NetGalley who provided a digital copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
SecondRunReviews More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Heather Gudenkauf’s novels. I’ve read everything she’s released except for one book. I was shocked and surprised to get approved via NetGalley to read Heather’s latest release, Missing Pieces. I was immediately sucked into Missing Pieces. The prologue pulls you in and from that point forward the story doesn’t really let up. Set in Iowa, Jack returns with his wife, Sarah, after a close relative is seriously injured. Jack left Iowa over 20 years ago and this is his first trip back. Through the course of the novel, Sarah discovers things about Jack that she never knew. It’s creepy. It’s scary. It will make you want to avoid basements in old farmhouses. It will have you looking at your significant other and asking, “There aren’t any secrets about your past that you want to share, are there?” I may or may not have asked my husband this several times during day it took me to read Missing Pieces. The book is fraught with tension which Gudenkauf has mastered writing. As Sarah slowly starts to put the pieces together, your mind starts turning and you can’t flip the pages fast enough to get to the reveal. And that’s where this story falls short. It hits a sour note on the reveal. Not enough pieces were shared for me to make the connection until it was too late. This is my least favorite thing about mystery novels. I want to get to the point of discovery JUST before or JUST as the character figures it out. That’s not to say that Missing Pieces is a bad book. It got my heart racing. I kept asking questions. I kept looking at my husband out of the corner of my eye. I finished the book in one day and said at the end said, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” It also got me out of a funk of one bad novel that I finished and one bad novel that I decided to DNF. Gudenkauf’s writing certainly delivers even if the ending was a bit rough.
BooksAndSpoons More than 1 year ago
I was so excited about this book, I was looking forwards to it, since I have enjoyed the author's previous novels, but this didn't live up to my expectations, and here is why. The story was told on Sarah's point of view. She is the 'outsider' in the family and in the events. She doesn't know Jack's family members, nearly at all, and it seems she didn't know her husband Jack so well either. So immediately, I never felt like I was 'in the story', just rather cold, plain, emotionless look into the events. And there was plenty of drama, danger, secrets, odd events, all that could bring the tension up, and make the story sizzle, but it never did, just telling it as it was. Yes, I need the emotional connection to the story I am reading, to enjoy it, and to be involved in it. Also, Jack and Sarah themselves seemed, well, they didn't seem like a happy couple, married for 20 some years, there wasn't a connection between them, no chemistry, nothing. As soon as there was doubt brought to her mind, Sarah doesn't trust a word Jack says, or anything he does, because of things that happen before they met?! Sarah had worked as an investigative reporter before taking care of their daughters, and now she is collecting clues on the murders, getting help from a woman who works at the police station. The woman, Margaret, used to babysit Jack and his sister, and because of that connection, she hands over case files for Sarah, after knowing her for just a couple of days?! Yes, there are lots of secrets, old murder, that seems to have a connection to the death of Jack's aunt. As those secret's are revealed, and evidence has brought to light, everyone is suspected, no one is in the clear, and trust is put into a hard test. The story isn't a long one, or hard to read, but I struggled with it, mostly just couldn't connect with it, and the characters felt flat, some of the events unreal. So not quite my cup of tea, but it does seem to have a lot of fans, so maybe you should judge for yourself. My score is ~ Two Spoons
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
The story was layered and as I removed each layer to uncover the mystery, everyone seems innocent. A few individuals were pointing fingers at others, laying their evidence out on the line but those who were accused, I was leering about blaming. It couldn’t be that simple, right? No one really stuck out to me to be the prime suspect, I needed more evidence and the author wasn’t forth coming about telling me the whole story, I needed to listen, really listen to what was being said. The history of this family dragged me into this novel. Their story wasn’t simple, no one’s really is but there were lies and deception at the center of their lives and secrets that they had kept to themselves for years. I enjoyed the character of Sarah, she was strong and persistent. She despised Penny Gate and wanted to leave and go home as she said it enough times but she wanted to get all of her answers before she left town. Jack left Iowa twenty years ago, a tragic accident took the lives of his parents and he hasn’t been back since. Actually, Jack hasn’t talked about Penny Gate, Iowa with anyone including his wife Sarah. This subject has been avoided until now when Jack and his wife return to his hometown to see his Aunt Julia who has been hospitalized. As I read, I understand why Jack has avoided this subject as Jack as not been totally honest about his past and his stories about Iowa are quite noteworthy. How Jack could keep his past from his wife for that many years confused me. His relationship with his wife Sarah surprised and flustered me too. They had kids in college, been married for years and yet there didn’t seem to be anything emotional keeping them together, they were like two friends rather than married individuals. Returning to Iowa, Jack is not happy as his memories come flooding back but Sarah is eager to learn about her husband’s past. As the family tries to manage the health issues with Aunt Julia they are jostled with additional startling news that throws the family into deeper hardship. Things are not as they seem. The family ruptures and their true colors shine. Sarah begins to wonder how she ended up in all this commotion. Taking matters into her own hands she begins to realize what type of man her husband really is and what type of family she has married into. It’s not the past with its secrets that finally come to light in the end but also includes the present as the two merge together to bring this family out into the open. Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin for providing a copy of this novel to me in exchange for an honest review.