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They Never Came Home    by Lois Duncan order for
They Never Came Home
by Lois Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2006 (1969)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

It is the month of April, with a light snowfall disappearing as soon as it hits the earth. 'Rising to the north and west in craggy peaks' is the beginning of the range leading into the Gila Wilderness. 'The lower slopes softened by the morning sun' of New Mexico look safe, simple, and familiar, with well-traveled hiking trails. It doesn't seem possible that anyone could lose their way. However, beyond these slopes lies real wilderness, where 'melting snow turned trickling streams into rushing rivers'.

Joan Drayfus' boyfriend Dan Cotwell and her brother Larry head out for a weekend camping trip, scheduled to return for Sunday dinner. When they don't show up, their disappearance is reported to the police. Search parties look for days on end for any sign of Dan and Larry. Dan's canteen is found on the bank of a river, but no bodies are recovered, and the search is postponed until the water lowers. Joan's mother is in shock. Her father had a heart attack not too long ago, and Joan becomes the strength that binds. She was headed for UCLA in the fall, while Larry - who had become unmanageable, running with the wrong crowd - was to attend military academy at the end of his third-year of high school.

May brings a dry spring, with 'warm winds heavy and pink with dust from the mesas', settling in thick layers upon furniture and window sills. Dust-filtered sun 'bathed the world in an eerie rose-colored glow, completely obliterating the view of the mountains.' The latter creates a certain amount of relief for the families who face the terrain each day, with tragic thoughts of Dan and Larry. The telephone rings constantly, including a call ID'd as John Brown, who tells Joan that Larry owes him $2100 from a business deal. Joan meets Brown at the library, and anxious to keep this from her parents, agrees to cross the border into Mexico to work off her brother's debt. Dan's brother Frank insists on traveling with Joan.

In September, on the Californian coast two brothers, David and Lance Carter, discuss Dave's memory loss after their parents died in an automobile accident in New York City. Lance fills Dave in on their family background. Dave is employed at a sports equipment store, while Lance searches for work, meeting acquaintances on the beach. UCLA student Peggy waitresses the night shift at a local diner, and begins dating Dave. Peggy senses that Dave is unsure of himself, and hesitates to share his thoughts. Then one night - the voice of Anne from New Mexico calls out to him.

They Never Came Home is a mystery beginning in the Mogollon Mountains and written by Lois Duncan, author of I Know What You Did Last Summer, and forty best-selling books. Duncan sets a comfortable pace, fills in family dynamics, and builds up her characters along with events and landscape. She slowly hooks the reader with scenarios involving drugs, betrayal, trust, and renewal, then plunges forward to a heart-stopping ending.

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