Title: In Search of the Rose Notes
Author: Emily Arsenault
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Eleven-year-olds Nora and Charlotte were best friends. When their teenage babysitter, Rose, disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the girls decided to “investigate.” But their search—aided by paranormal theories and techniques gleaned from old Time-Life books—went nowhere.
Years later, Nora, now in her late twenties, is drawn back to her old neighborhood—and to her estranged friend—when Rose’s remains are finally discovered. Upset over their earlier failure to solve the possible murder, Charlotte is adamant that they join forces and try again. But Nora was the last known person to see Rose alive, and she’s not ready to revisit her troubled adolescence and the events surrounding the disappearance—or face the disturbing secrets that are already beginning to reemerge.”
Thoughts: All good things must come to an end sometime, and my streak of excellent books read is no different. In Search of the Rose Notes is the novel that killed my streak, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, this mediocre whodunit leaves much to be desired. Told through alternating flashbacks and present-day discoveries, the fundamental flaw in the novel is that Ms. Arsenault tries to combine a multitude of genres. Instead of a seamless combination of elements, In Search of the Rose Notes is a jumbled mess.
The entire story would have been better had the reader been more vested in Rose, since the entire story revolves around her disappearance. Any suspense build-up is lost because the reader does not know enough about Rose to care what happened to her in a way that warrants the attempted tension. The two characters into whom the reader gets the most insight, Charlotte and Nora, are fairly generic and simplistic. Charlotte is the queen bee, the one who only uses others for a necessary sidekick; Nora is that sidekick. Even as an adult, Nora could stand to gain a little more spine and finally stand up to Charlotte. Much of the necessary tension in a missing person’s mystery is lost because of these poorly-described, superficial characters.
Ms. Arsenault also tries to add a Gothic element to In Search of the Rose Notes. Unfortunately, her Gothic elements are circumstantial at best, and the reader is left wondering just what Ms. Arsenault was trying to tell the reader. If anything, the fascination with the Time Life series on the occult and other mystical elements is more humorous than spooky or creepy.
Other more jarring elements of the story involve the title and the era. The title is a huge hint to the mystery, and the bluntness of this is disconcerting. No one wants to the mystery to be quite as obvious as it is. Also, the girls come of age during the 1990s. This is my era; I was the same age they were in the 1990s. Either my memory is faulty or else Ms. Arsenault got some of the details of the era incorrect. The music and fashion mentioned are all wrong. I found myself spending way too much time obsessing about these details and whether they were accurate versus worrying about the mystery itself.
I did not want to dislike In Search of the Rose Notes. I was really looking forward to reading it; in fact, I accidentally ended up with two review copies. There were just too many little issues that I found with the novel that ultimately ruined the overarching story for me. The confusing mentions of the occult, Nora’s meekness and Charlotte’s bossiness, the setting – these all prevented me from becoming immersed in the story. I want to lose myself in a good mystery, not be constantly jarred back into the real world because of various details. Unfortunately, In Search of the Rose Notes was one of those novels that did not live up to my expectations or hopes.