Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

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A woman who has moved away from her childhood home returns and has a chance encounter with a man who turns out to be the love of her life. It’s a familiar plotline for many romance novels, including this debut from U.K. author Rosie Walsh, who has written four novels previously under the name Lucy Robinson.

Sarah and Eddie meet while walking in the small English town where Sarah has returned for a visit after living in California for nearly 20 years. They quickly bond as they capture an escaped sheep together on the village green. Sarah is newly divorced and in need of some passion in her life, which is exactly what Eddie provides during the magical week they spend together in his cozy home. No sooner have they declared their love for each other than the story takes a dark turn. Eddie seems to vanish without a trace.

Sarah and Eddie’s fairytale romance follows a familiar path for many modern daters. He declares his love before leaving for a planned vacation in Spain and promises to stay in touch during the trip. Then he doesn’t. No calls, no texts and his social media has gone silent. Sarah travels to London as planned for a reunion with old friends before she returns home to California, but she can’t stop worrying about Eddie. Something terrible must have happened to him, she tells herself. He must be hurt or even dead. Finally she faces the inevitable truth—she’s been ghosted! The term may be new, but the situation is ages old. After convincing her that he’s sincere, Eddie appears to be ending the relationship by ceasing all communication.

Unable to accept that their love wasn’t real, Sarah uses Facebook to spy on him while pleading for an answer in letters posted to Facebook Messenger. Going to his house for a face-to face confrontation is out of the question. Her self-esteem plummets as she finds herself acting and feeling more like a lovesick teenager than a woman in her late 30s who runs a successful charity organization. At one point she blames herself for not telling him about her recent divorce and sends a long message begging for forgiveness. Eddie still doesn’t answer.

Finally Sarah believes her friends when they tell her she’s become obsessed. She certainly doesn’t feel like herself. At some point she loved her ex-husband, but she never felt the intensity she feels with Eddie. She boards her flight for California, hoping a return to her normal routine will help her forget Eddie just as he seemed to have forgotten her.

It’s hard to reveal more about this highly plotted story without giving something away. Eddie has been presented as such a down-to-earth, lovable kind of guy that we don’t want to believe he would use Sarah and then walk away. He makes his living as a carpenter and he’s so decent that he’s never been married because he spends most his time taking care of his sick mother. Readers may begin to suspect long before Sarah does that Eddie’s disappearance is related to a hidden connection between the two of them. Sarah hints at a tragedy in her past but remains silent about some key pieces to the puzzle. In the end we learn why it was no coincidence that she and Eddie were ready for new love at that stage in their lives.

Although Eddie’s disappearance has all the makings of a mystery, the story is more about family relationship than it is a thriller. The romance between Sarah and Eddie takes center stage, but there are many other types of love described in the book. Complex relationships between parents and children, siblings and close friends grow and change over time. Some people move on while others are stuck trying to relive the past. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles are conquered and in the end love is all that matters.

Rosie Walsh does an admirable job of switching between time periods and narrators, using social media posts as well as letters to share her character’s deepest thoughts. For every unlikely plot twist she introduces, you can trace back and see the groundwork has been carefully laid so it all makes sense. Despite the anxiety Sarah feels about Eddie’s disappearance, there are supporting characters such as her old friends, Tommy and Jo, who add some humor to the situation. Sarah’s work as the head of a charity that brings clowns to hospitals to cheer up sick children is another interesting touch.

Originally published in the U.K. as The Man Who Didn’t Call, the title Ghosted seems much more appropriate for this modern love story where mobile phones and social media play major roles.

Readers who are fans of JoJo Moyes and Liane Moriarty should put this one on their must-read list. ■