Have You Seen Dawn?by Steven Saylor
For Rue, arriving in Amethyst evokes the cozy comfort of returning to a safe haven where everyone knows her name and nothing ever seems to change. Then, in the window of the local grocery store,
Duty and love of her wheelchair-bound grandmother compel Rue Dunwitty to travel from her new home in San Francisco back to the quiet little Texas town where she was raised.
For Rue, arriving in Amethyst evokes the cozy comfort of returning to a safe haven where everyone knows her name and nothing ever seems to change. Then, in the window of the local grocery store, she sees a sign with a picture of a teenage girl and the question, "Have you seen Dawn?" Rue's bittersweet nostalgia is abruptly replaced by a growing sense of dread.
Dawn is the daughter of a single mother who recently moved to town. When Rue encounters Dawn's twin brother, she is disconcerted by his precocious, brooding intensity. Also unnerving is the change that seems to have come over Rue's old friends. Have they simply grown apart, or is there something more sinister at play?
Then, late at night, Rue sees a strange light in the field outside her grandmother's house, moving across the abandoned farm that once had been home to her father, from whom she is now estranged.
In short order, Rue finds herself confounded by a series of disturbing discoveries -- about the husband of her best friend from high school days; about the intentions of the town's handsome deputy sheriff; about her father, who moved away from Amethyst years ago but may have secretly returned; about her brother, who lives in Austin, but who seems to have taken a leave from both his job and his marriage; and about her boyfriend from San Francisco, who suddenly shows up in town and who seems not to be a stranger there.
Atmospheric and grippingly suspenseful, Have You Seen Dawn? is a thrilling novel of brooding menace, devious twists, and startling surprises.
- Simon & Schuster
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- 6.36(w) x 9.36(h) x 0.88(d)
Read an Excerpt
Rue counted the landmarks as she drew closer -- the dirt road that turned off the highway toward the old American Legion Hall, the ugly little power substation surrounded by a chain-link fence, the one-room farmhouse nestled in the crook of a limestone cliff. Nothing much had changed since she was a little girl, except that the Legion Hall was abandoned now, the power substation was painted silver instead of green, and the little farmhouse was almost completely obscured by a pair of oak trees. When had the trees grown so big? Rue had taken this drive hundreds of times through the years, but she had never noticed the trees before. Some changes happen so slowly they seem to occur all at once.
She passed the last landmark, a little historical marker by a dry, ruined windmill where the first settlers had found water in the 1850s. Then, as she approached the crest of the hill, she came to the city limits sign: AMETHYST, TEXAS, POP. 2,067. The town had shrunk a little since the last census, but it was still bigger now than when she was a child. The population then was 1,973 -- not hard to remember, since that was also the year she was born.
The little blue rental car shifted gears uneasily as it topped the hill. In a bowl of umber hills skirted by dark oaks and pecans and eroded limestone cliffs, Amethyst lay sleeping beneath a cold, gray sky.
The courthouse appeared first, a white-and-yellow wedding cake of Greek columns and plaster flourishes. The American flag atop the little dome hung lifeless as a shroud in the still December air. The big Texaco sign was next, a giant steel pole with branches at the top to hold up each giant red letter; the X was shattered and half blown away, and had been ever since Rue could remember. Some fool with a deer rifle, her mother had said, probably out drunk on a Saturday night.
She stepped lightly on the brake as the car descended the hill, eager to take in the view even though she had seen it so many times before. Each time coming home it was the same, as she passed each station on the journey: the long flight from San Francisco, the layover in Dallas, the short hop to Austin, the car rental at the airport, the steady hour-and-a-half drive across the rolling hill country through a string of small towns, each town smaller than the last, and then the final few minutes before she crested the hill, passed the familiar landmarks, and then saw the whole town spread out below her.
It was not a particularly pretty town, especially in winter, when the oaks and the junipers turned dark, the pecans lost their leaves, and the spotty patches of grass amid the cactus and limestone withered and turned gray. The town was naked in winter, and from the hill you could see all the houses jumbled together, the nice ones and the tacky ones, the brick ranchettes and the mock-Tara mansionettes, along with the clusters of ramshackle clapboard houses with rusted tin roofs, where the Mexican families lived. It was not even a particularly welcoming sight; there was a part of Rue that had always wanted to leave Amethyst behind, that had never felt at home there, just as there was a part of her that always brought her back no matter how far away she ventured. Still, each time she descended the hill for the first time on a visit home, she slowed down for the view, wanting to take it all in, wanting to somehow make some sense of the place before she stepped back into her past, their present.
Rue glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was almost five thirty. If things were still the same, and of course they would be, on a Friday evening Schneider's Grocery would be closing at six. Gran would have supper waiting for her, but there were always little things Rue wouldn't find at the house -- decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, nonfat milk, magazines. She had just enough time to make a trip to the store.
The highway turned into Main Street and took her past the courthouse to the only stoplight in town. There were only a few cars and pickup trucks parked around the square; downtown Amethyst was never very busy even at midday, and after five just about everything in town except Schneider's shut down. The little community announcements board at the corner of the courthouse square read, BAPTIST LADIES BAKE SALE SAT. 12-4, and on the next line, BEAT THE GIANTS! GO TIGERS GO! The S in TIGERS was really an inverted Z -- perhaps there weren't enough S's to go around. As Rue watched, an automatic timer switched on and the sign lit up, sending a sickly yellow light through the clear plastic panels, silhouetting the black letters.
Schneider's was only a block beyond the light. She pulled into the parking lot, taking a space with no cars on either side. That was one good thing about Amethyst, so different from San Francisco; there was always plenty of space to park. The only other vehicles in the lot were a rusty old Ford station wagon and a huge black pickup covered with dust from country roads, and inside the cab was a gun rack filled with rifles. Schneider's employees parked in back. It had always been that way, ever since Rue worked there summers and afternoons as a checker when she was in high school.
But there was something new: when Rue stepped onto the black pad in front of the entrance, the glass door automatically slid open for her. Milton Schneider had finally invested in electronic doors. She started to smile and then stopped, because something unexpected caught her eye.
Affixed with Scotch tape to the glass beside the door was a yellow placard. A small color photo was pasted to the heavy cardboard, a picture of a teenaged girl, and underneath, in big handwritten letters, the words HAVE YOU SEEN DAWN? The picture looked like a class photo. The girl was pretty, smiling in spite of her braces, with permed blond hair. LAST SEEN SATURDAY, NOV. 30TH, the sign said. Almost a week ago, Rue thought; two days after Thanksgiving. There was more -- the missing girl's full name, her age, a description, a number to call. She was only seventeen. It was the kind of thing Rue had gotten used to seeing in the city, but certainly not here. She suddenly felt the cold, shivered, and pulled her coat more tightly around her.
"Well, come on in, honey! It's too chilly to stand there with the door open!"
Rue stepped inside. The door hissed shut behind her. It was Maybelline Schneider, standing behind the nearest cash register, who had called to her. Maybelline's dyed red hair was done up in a bouffant and her large bosom strained against her store apron. "Why, if it's not Rue Dunwitty! You weren't here for Thanksgiving, were you? When did you get in?"
"Just now." Rue tried to think of something else to say, a little disoriented as she always was when she first arrived back in Amethyst and people started talking to her as if she were a girl again.
"Well, get your shopping done, hon. We close in twenty minutes." Maybelline turned back to the customer she was checking out.
Rue took a cart and walked up and down the aisles, thinking of things Gran wouldn't have in the house. From behind the butcher's counter, Milton Schneider smiled and said hello. He was a tall, heavyset man with a florid complexion. He had lost quite a bit of hair since Rue had last seen him. She smiled vaguely. Why was she suddenly in a bad mood? It was that placard in the window, the picture of that missing teenager...
When Rue checked out, she was the last customer in the store. Milton was striding up and down the aisles with a broad-headed broom. Maybelline checked as slowly as she talked.
"How's your grandma, hon?"
"I'm sure she's fine. Actually, I haven't been to the house yet. I only just got in."
"Milton! Do me a price check on this yogurt -- the low-fat vanilla. And how's life treating you out there in California, hon?"
"Fine. No complaints."
Maybelline smiled sweetly. "Except you better watch out for those earthquakes! And your older brother's still in Austin?"
"I'll bet his kids keep him busy." Maybelline raised an eyebrow. "You got yourself a boyfriend out there in San Francisco?"
"You sure about that?" Maybelline flashed a smug-looking smile, as if she had heard some gossip and knew something she wasn't supposed to. But how could Maybelline Schneider know anything about Rue's private life in San Francisco? "Well, don't you worry, hon, I'll bet some handsome fellow's likely to pop the question when you least expect it, and then the two of you'll have your own house full of brats before you know it."
Rue hummed and nodded.
"Milton! Well, did he hear me, or not? Dwayne, you go check on that yogurt for me." She turned to the sack boy, a tall, sullen-faced teenager with dark blond hair. Over his store apron he was wearing an orange-and-black football letterman's jacket. Rue looked at him closely for the first time and was startled to see a zigzag cut into his hair and a small gold ring in one earlobe. He could have been a San Francisco teenager. How did kids in Amethyst keep up with trends and fashions? From television, probably, even though the local cable company had always refused to carry MTV, saying it was too controversial. Rue also noticed he wore a more conventional silver signet ring with the initial D in onyx.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure the yogurt is eighty-nine cents," Rue said.
"Good enough for me. Never mind, Dwayne, just keep sacking. So, is that everything, hon?"
"I think so."
While Maybelline totaled the bill, Rue took another look at the boy sacking her groceries. She sensed that she had seen his face before, but where? That happened all the time in Amethyst, seeing faces she couldn't quite place. Maybe he was some classmate's baby brother all grown up. He was wearing a little name tag, which seemed silly, since everyone in Amethyst would know him. The name meant nothing to Rue: Dwayne Frady.
Maybelline announced the total with a sigh that said she was finished for the day. Rue reached into her shoulder bag. Then she remembered what had been bothering her. "The sign on the door," she said. "The missing girl..."
"Oh...yeah. Since last week. The Saturday after Thanksgiving." Maybelline wrinkled her brow and turned toward the boy, not quite looking him in the eye. "You can go ahead and take that bag out to the lady's car, Dwayne."
"Oh, that's all right," Rue said. "It's not very heavy. And it's awfully cold out there."
"Well then, Dwayne, why don't you go help Milton close up the produce department?" Maybelline kept her eyes averted from the boy. He turned and walked slowly away, glancing furtively over his shoulder at Rue. Maybelline lowered her voice. "If you want to know about Dawn, you should buy a Bulletin," Maybelline said, pointing to a stack of thin newspapers by the checkout. "It's all in this week's edition. All that anybody knows, anyway, which isn't much."
"Oh, that's all right. I'm sure Gran will have a copy at the house." Rue gathered up her groceries.
"Well, you and your granny stay warm tonight. S'posed to be a mean cold front coming our way. Weatherman predicts record lows."
"We'll bundle up." Rue smiled.
The door hissed open to let her out. A gust of frigid wind blew against her face. The cold front had arrived. Across the parking lot she saw naked treetops thrashing in the sudden wind.
The parking lot was empty now except for her little blue rental car. Rue fumbled for her keys, balancing the groceries on her hip. She slipped inside and slammed the door shut against the howling wind.
Rue searched for the headlight switch and clicked it on. In the store window, beyond the glare of the reflected headlights, the boy named Dwayne was standing and staring at her. When she caught him looking, he gave a start, or perhaps it was Maybelline's voice from inside that made him jump. He flashed a nervous, crooked smile, then turned away. His braces glinted in the headlights.
It was the braces that made her realize who he was; the braces, and the fact that he had been standing practically side by side with the picture in the window. He and that girl had the same smile, the same braces, and the same last name. From this distance Rue could barely read the name on the placard -- Dawn Frady.
The boy was the missing girl's brother.
Copyright © 2003 by Steven Saylor
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I am extremely disappointed with this novel. To me it was bland and the so called 'major twists' were equivalent to bad reality TV. I don't suggest that you read this book. Stay far away as possible.
I found this novel terrific (was so engrossed that I stayed up till 3:30 a.m. to finish it). The mystery involves the disappearance of a teenage girl, and its effect on the life of a 29-year-old woman with problems of her own. Is the disappearance linked to others? How many others? Just how sinister are the secrets in heroine Rue Dunwitty's own family? What are the explanations for the strange behavior of her father, her brother, her sort-of boyfriend? Saylor manages to cast suspicion on six different suspects before giving us a satisfying explanation of the crimes. After finishing the book, I found myself wondering whether the identity of the villain should have been obvious to the discerning reader (as critics claimed was the case in "A Twist At the End"). But the fact is, in both instances, I didn't realize who it was until Saylor wanted me to.
Amethyst, Texas might no longer be home for Rue Dunwitty but going back to the small town makes her feel nostalgic. It is a peaceful place unlike San Francisco where she now lives. When she spots a poster asking if anyone has seen Dawn who has gone missing on the way to the Amethyst supermarket, she¿s shocked because things like that don¿t happen in her hometown. Rue is staying at her grandmother¿s home. One night when she has trouble sleeping, she sees a light across the field on her father¿s property. The next day she explores the run down area and finds Dawn¿s naked body in an empty cistern, burn marks on her arms and legs. Rue calls the sheriff to come over but by the time he arrives, the body is missing. Rue starts asking questions and comes to the attention of a killer who would like to make her victim number four. HAVE YOU SEEN DAWN? is a gothic melodrama complete with an innocent maiden, a brooding hero and a surplus of likely suspects. This is a very atmospheric tale, one in which the tension slowly but steadily amplifies until the audience is ready to jump out of their skin. The killer of three innocent teens will come as a shock to the audience because he is the last person anyone would suspect. Steven Saylor is one author who consistently tells a mesmerizing story. Harriet Klausner