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"The Return of Ellie Black" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

Updated: May 21

Hikers in Washington State find her—the teenager who goes missing from her home in Coldwell, Washington. The girl was supposed to be spending the night with a friend, but simply vanished, leaving her family to deal with the horror of not knowing what happened to her. For two years they live in a hellish limbo, not knowing if she is dead or alive.

“The Return of Ellie Black,” by Emiko Jean, opens with Ellie being reunited with her parents and older sister, miraculously escaping continued sexual/physical abuse at the hands of David, a Charles Manson-like predator who manipulated Ellie in twisted ways as he tried to break her spirit. He forced her to be dependent on him for food, shelter and protection in the massive state forest where he kept her hidden away. Her life in captivity is chilling.

Though this thriller is Ellie’s story, it’s Chelsey’s tale too, the adopted Japanese daughter of Coldwell’s former police chief. Chelsey’s father died of cancer but her father’s cautionary words still reverberate in her mind. The chief blamed himself for not being able to protect Lydia, his other daughter, one year older than Chelsey.

Lydia was murdered when she was just a teenager, shaking everyone in Coldwell.  Her death haunted her father and continues to haunt Chelsey—making the incident with Ellie even more important and personal when Chelsey is assigned to the case by her boss, Sergeant Abbott, along with Abbott’s inept policeman son Doug, who went to school with Chelsey. Neither of the Abbotts are particular favorites of Chelsey, her memories of Doug bitter because he used to make fun of her for looking different than the other kids.

Chelsey throws herself into the investigation with vigor, working long hours that stress her relationship with her husband Noah, who’s supportive but growing weary of Chelsey’s obsession with the case. Chelsey has to remind herself to take it slow when it comes to Ellie, who is obviously traumatized by her horrific experiences in the woods and hesitant to provide much detailed information, or explain why the blood on the shirt she's found wearing isn't hers.

There are numerous characters in the book, some of whom appear suspect, which will keep readers guessing as to who is guilty and connected to Ellie’s disappearance. It’s difficult to foresee where the story is headed because the plot is complicated, but feasible, sucking you in as Ellie's journey toward real freedom ensues.

“The Return of Ellie Black” is a good read that holds your interest throughout with its imaginative story line in which Emiko Jean pulls out all of the plugs.

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