The hunter becomes the hunted in Eliza Jane Brazier’s upcoming thriller, If I Disappear, out today via Berkley Publishing. A skillful dissection of true-crime podcast culture and those obsessed with it, this new novel has more twists and fakeouts than an episode of Serial.
If I Disappear follows a woman named Sera who is transfixed by true crime podcaster, Rachel Bard, and the concept of women disappearing — a common trope of the genre that speaks to who society cares about. Beautiful white women with tons of family ties? The cops are on it. A drifter loner with no family? Not so much.
When Rachel goes missing — or, rather, when she stops dropping new episodes — Sera decides that it’s up to her to find the woman; she has listened to every episode of her podcast more than once, after all. Without ties, close family, or friends, Sera finds herself the perfect prey for a myriad of possible suspects, including Rachel’s controlling mother and wacky father; a drunken cowboy with a dark past; and various and sundry townspeople who aren’t too fond of the Bard family.
The thriller genre relies heavily on plot, but despite boasting such a complicated one, If I Disappear never falls into the all-too-common trap of half-drawn characters and cardboard motivations. We don’t get a lot about Sera’s background — she’s in her thirties, there’s an ex-husband and a miscarriage — but her obsessive thoughts and ruminations on womanhood render her a complete person. If anything, sans too much background, true crime fans are able to easily slot themselves in her shoes, thereby examining their own darkness. Side characters are similarly rich — sad cowboy Jed is the romantic prospect we’re doomed to root for, and even Rachel’s overbearing mother, Addy, has her likable side. When she starts to call Sera “Rachel,” replacing her lost daughter with a near-stranger, it’s hard not to feel a twinge to the heart.
In a world where the misery of others is often mined for entertainment — whether it be via podcasts or documentaries — If I Disappear throws into sharp relief how desensitized we can become when we treat real life like a game.