Seventeen-year-old Kyle Donovan’s life is shattered. His mother is missing and his father is accused of killing her, dismembering her, and dumping her pieces into the Mississippi River off the shores of eastern Iowa. Kyle’s father, King Donovan, claims his wife deserted the family and left town with her lover. Kyle expected his dad’s trial for the crime to solve the mystery, but when the trial ends in a hung jury, Kyle is desperate to discover the truth for himself, however terrible.
Missing Pieces by Jon Ripslinger
“Based on a true story” is a sure way to get my attention. Written by a retired high school English teacher who likes Hemingway’s style is another. Jon Ripslinger delivers with this story of an 18-year-old high school football getting flak from classmates for having a dad on trial for murder.
Ripslinger’s years of experience with teenagers is manifest in his spot-on Point of View. While Kyle occasionally sounds wise for his years, he consistently sounds like an authentic teenage guy with bigger concerns than most people face even as adults. His mother is missing. His dad is Suspect #1 in her disappearance. Bullies harass Kyle and agitate him to fist-blows (and suspensions, as if Kyle didn’t have trouble enough already). He has a troubled little sister to look out for, a football team wanting him to hurry back, a girlfriend’s judgmental parents shunning him, but also a new friend and unexpected ally.
In my Kindle I highlighted numerous passages like this one:
“You get p^ssed often enough, gradually you get bitter. Bitter is like when something bad’s been happening for a long while. The bad crawls under your skin and festers. It never goes away. I was bitter because my mom was missing—dead or alive, I didn’t know. My dad had been accused of her murder but his trial had proven nothing. He seemed glad to have her gone and didn’t seem interested in finding her. If I didn’t do something, the truth about my mom’s disappearance might never be known. Kelly and I might never put our lives back together.
“You’d be bitter, too.”
Having studied far too many cold cases, I can attest that page after page rings true in this story. The stupid questions from reporters–“How do you feel” about your mother missing and presumed dead–sadly is all too accurate.
For young adult, this is riveting reading. For adults of any age, it’s illuminating. For those who’ve lost a loved one and the case has gone cold, this is a must-read. I bought it, read it, and finished it one evening. The book is that good. The prose is first-rate.
I’m off to find more by this author. You can find him at goodreads:
**Authors turning Cold Cases into fiction**
Apr 9, 2016
“Throughout his teaching career, Ripslinger pined to write fiction. But he worked a couple of part-time jobs (See: six kids), and the serious writing had to wait until after his retirement in 1994. He collected ideas over the years, archiving them in his memory. One such idea was to borrow from one of the Quad-Cities’ most notorious crimes: The murder and dismemberment of Joyce Klindt by her husband, Davenport chiropractor James Klindt.” … The book, “Missing Pieces,” is required reading in Jan Luton’s composition classes at Assumption High School. … most of her students had familiarized themselves with Quad-City Times coverage of the Klindt case. They had questions about the relationship between fact and fiction.“What the kids are struck by is his language,” Luton said of Ripslinger’s writing. “It’s real to them. The first sentence of the book is, ‘I was pissed,’ (referring to the hung jury in Klindt’s first trial).”… The story’s main character is Kyle Donovan. But he is the imagination’s twin of Bart Klindt, Jim and Joyce’s only child. Though born of the book, Kyle is not merely borrowed from headlines of the 1983 murder. Bart Klindt went to school with one of Ripslinger’s sons, and the author remembers the then-teen visiting his house. He used Kyle to tell readers what it must have been like to be Bart.“A writer sort of becomes the character,” he told the students. “The character actually comes alive in your head. I let the character take me to the end of the story.”