What Could Be Saved

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Atria Books 2021


The lingering quietness of Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s mystery novel, “What Could Be Saved,” is also its driving energy. The narrative, bouncing between past and present, evolves around the disappearance of a child, and then, his re-appearance a half-century later.

The story begins with a phone call from Thailand in 2019. Laura Preston, living in the Washington, DC area, is told her brother, Phillip, who disappeared in 1972 when he was nine, is alive and is willing to reconnect with his family. Back in the 1970s, parents Genevieve and Robert, daughters Laura and Beatrice, and youngest child, Phillip, had transferred from DC to Bangkok where Robert was assigned a job building a dam.

Slowly, yet packed with suspense, the plot unfurls, revealing the unfathomable truth behind Phillip’s disappearance and why he waited so long to contact his family. Laura and Beatrice, always at odds, duel how to address the Bangkok call. Beatrice is convinced it is a scam, but Laura disagrees, and impulsively flies to Bangkok to retrieve her brother.

… a complex story but O’Halloran Schwarz writes it masterfully.

Then, the story returns to the past, when the Preston family lived in a luxury house, the children are raised by servants, and Genevieve busily hosts parties for new employees and spouses. Genevieve becomes suspicious there is no dam project, and in one sentence embedded in the tale, it is disclosed Robert is actually a spy. No detail is provided except a mention of the Vietnam War.

But as the puzzle pieces fall into place, the author unveils her sly and intriguing characters. Beatrice, the oldest, observes the servants and has her suspicions but remains quiet. The parents meanwhile are mum about their whereabouts when Phillip went missing.

The Preston family subsequently returns to DC. After Robert’s death,  Genevieve often traveled back to Thailand, searching for Phillip, until her dementia ends that quest. But even then, she’s heard repeating, “The girls should never know.”

In the tension-filled pace, the author offers clues to the reader on how Phillip managed to survive. We learn who withheld information about what happened the day he disappeared, and ultimately, the true nature of his disappearance. It’s a complex story but O’Halloran Schwarz writes it masterfully.