The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
(2013 William Morrow). $15; 423 pp.

Reggie Dufrane, a 39-year-old woman, never wanted to return to the old stone house built by her grandfather for his wife, Monique, who died in childbirth. Called Monique’s Wish the house was supposed to be a gift, but Reggie only saw it as a place to escape from.

But when her Aunt Lorraine phoned, she had no choice. Twenty-five years ago, Reggie’s mother, Vera, was the final victim of a serial killer that the media dubbed Neptune. Though they never recovered her body, Vera’s right hand was found, amputated neatly — the calling card of a killer.

But Vera was very much alive. She’d been living in a homeless shelter all those years, and now she was dying of cancer. Lorraine demanded that Reggie bring Vera to Monique’s Wish for her final days, though returning to a life’s worth of bad memories was something Reggie didn’t want to do.

Vera hadn’t been a good parent. Reggie spent more time with her aunt than with her alcoholic mother. Because she felt unloved, and because of a childhood injury, Reggie grew up self-conscious, self-destructive and unable to resist peer pressure from a reckless supposed-best friend. It had taken a long time to overcome that. She didn’t want to return to it.

But her mother was alive, and dying. And since Neptune was never caught, Vera was still in danger. Then again, so was Reggie …

I really have to stop reading books like this before bedtime. I was OK until I got about a quarter-way through it.

But then Jennifer McMahon made me jump and, well, helloooo nightmares.

Though there are some rough spots in editing and a little bit of initial back-and-forth confusion in timeline, The One I Left Behind is a fine thriller. The characters are a creepy bunch, even when you may think they’re not supposed to be. There are lots of distractions here to keep you guessing, and plenty of dead ends that should easily foil early-solvers. In fact, I didn’t know where McMahon was going until almost the end of this book, which was mighty satisfying.

So if you need to scare up a few scares, this book should be your next read need. For lovers of a high Creep Level, The One I Left Behind won’t be left behind anywhere.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 31, 2013.