Sunday Book Club: A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

It was a matter of chance when I picked up this book A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney – it was actually stacked on the wrong shelf beside another author that I was looking for; it was in pristine condition, and I could never stop myself when I see a perfectly new book in the national library. There’s just something beautiful about brand new books, and there’s something incredibly exciting to me about being the first to read a library book.

Anyway, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to read as I checked it out immediately because I didn’t want anyone else to steal my chance of being the first to read a library book. I know, I have issues. I did not read the synopsis, and I did not recognise the author. Only when I brought it home did I realised that it’s a sad book about loss, apparently with some mystery intertwined; I thought, it can’t be too bad. But I was wrong.

**This part of the review consist of Spoilers

Eight-year-old Vinni Stewart and her single mother Maddy were on vacation at the Jersey shore when they spot their elderly neighbours Rudy and Hilda; Rudy is slumped over in the sand and Hilda is standing helplessly beside him and crying. Maddy raced home to call 911, leaving Vinni on the beach with them. When Maddy returns, Rudy is dead and both Hilda and Vinni are gone. And a desperate search begins.

At the beginning, Steve, Vinni’s father, tries to help. Everything about Rudy and Hilda seems to check out, except for a few minor details – that they lived in a house that’s priced way above Rudy’s income as a professor, and they were planning to leave. Something that Hilda said also stay stuck in Maddy’s mind – “Your work… it keeps you away from your child?”. When local police and the FBI’s work leads to nowhere, Maddy starts her own investigation and refused to give up. Detective John D’Orfini sees more than a kidnapping but his warnings to stay away from the investigation as it could be dangerous for her do not deter Maddy. In desperation, she seeks the help of private detectives and even a psychic.

Evelyn, her elderly neighbor and an artist, tries to help Maddy, who is rapidly losing all her abilities to function properly and lost her job as a magazine editor, by encouraging her to paint again. As time went on, John and Maddy begins an awkward relationship even though John has started to lose hope that they ever find Vinni again. Deep in grief, Evelyn makes Maddy see a psychologist Dr Goodman, who turns out to be Evelyn’s ex-husband.

A year after her daughter disappears, John finds a receipt from a bakery in Brooklyn in Rudy’s trousers – which was sent off for laundry before his death and delivered during an annual sweep of forgotten items by the laundrette. Maddy rushes down to question the owners Hannah and George, and despite their protests that they have not seen her daughter, she realises that Hannah knew her daughter’s name is Vinni.

Maddy begins to find strength through her art. She finds out that Evelyn’s child died at five months; Evelyn was so busy painting that she did not check her crib. With the help of Evelyn, her work gets exhibited and recognised while the whole collection of her work were purchased by a mystery buyer through the help of a lawyer Donald Howard.

In the fourth year of Vinni’s disappearance, Evelyn dies. Evelyn’s friend Tuba encourages Maddy to continue her art and helps to promote it. Meanwhile, the Russian Mafia warns her to stop sniffing into their business, even cutting off Maddy’s toe, but Maddy does not give up. At one of her art exhibitions, Maddy sees Hannah who tells Maddy that “Soon you will receive a call and life will be good again”.

After 5 years since Vinni’s disappearance, Maddy receives a call from Meta, the caretaker of the farm estate owned by Hilda; she tells Maddy to come to Neuschwanstein to bring Vinni home. Hilda has died a few days ago, leaving all that she owned to Maddy, Vinni and her sister Hannah; Hilda’s only child died at eight and she took Vinni because she wanted to be a mother for a time. In the end, Maddy finally reunites with Vinni.

Final Thoughts

I really did not enjoy the book; I thought it was a truly boring and slow read. It read more like a journal of a broken mother, and I thought that the plot was really ridiculous and not very well thought through. Even at eight years old, I cannot imagine any child would follow an old woman and believe that her mother died when she just saw her a few minutes ago.

It was also very conveniently not very well explained as to how Hilda managed to bring Vinni out of the country because Hilda has died, leaving Meta to explain but she does not know much either. It sounded like a very convenient excuse to hide the fact that the author had no idea how to explain it away. I did think that there were some interesting imagery, through Maddy’s art, but that was the only highlights of the book.

On the back of the book, the Russian mafia’s involvement was played up as if it was an integral part of the story – but it is an incredibly tiny part and nearly inconsequential. Even though I did not read the synopsis before picking it up, I hate that they tried to cheat readers by playing up the mystery factor of the book. It’s a very sad and underhanded attempt and I am upset at the author and her publisher for doing so.

I would not recommend this book to anybody unless you like watching paint dry. The pace is so ridiculously slow – the five years that Vinni disappeared feels like I had spent five years reading it, and the plot is so convoluted and nonsensical. By the time I read the last chapter, I wanted to tear the book up but unfortunately it belongs to the library.

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