In this brilliantly twisted debut set among Boston’s elite, Edwin Hill delivers a page-turning tale of two missing persons determined to stay that way—at any cost . . .
Harvard librarian Hester Thursby knows that even in the digital age, people still need help finding things. Using her research skills, Hester runs a side business tracking down the lost. Her new case is finding the handsome and charismatic Sam Blaine. But Sam has no desire to be found.
As a teenager, Sam fled his small New Hampshire town with his friend, Gabe, after a haunting incident. For a dozen years, Sam and Gabe have traveled the country, reinventing themselves as they move from one mark to another. Sam has learned how trusting wealthy people can be—especially the lonely ones—as he expertly manipulates his way into their lives and homes. In Wendy Richards, the beautiful, fabulously rich daughter of one of Boston’s most influential families, he’s found the perfect way to infiltrate the milieu in which he knows he belongs—a world of Brooks Brothers suits, Nantucket summers, and effortless glamour.
As Hester’s investigation closes in on their brutal truth, the bond between Sam and Gabe is tested and Hester unknowingly jeopardizes her own safety . . .
“An increasingly tense plot and striking characters make this a standout.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
About the Author
Edwin Hill has written for the LA Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Publishers Weekly, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. He is the vice president and editorial director for Bedford/St. Martin's, a division of Macmillan. He received a bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University and an MFA from Emerson College. He lives in Boston with his partner, Michael, and their dog, Edith Ann.
Read an Excerpt
All Hester Thursby wanted was a single day to herself, and today was going to be that day — even if it killed her. She left the baby monitor on the nightstand next to her snoring non-husband, Morgan, and slipped out of the house with Waffles on the leash. Okay, maybe she glanced into Kate's bedroom to be sure her three-year-old niece was still alive; maybe she crept up to the queen-size bed where the tiny girl slept within a protective barricade of stuffed animals. And maybe Hester felt a wave of relief when Kate rubbed her nose with a fist and rolled over. Kate had been staying with them since September, and no matter how much Hester wanted to keep the kid from cramping her style, she still hadn't adjusted to worrying about another human being all day and every day. "We're making this up as we go along, kid," she whispered, kissing Kate's forehead.
Outside was quiet and dark in the way only a frigid morning in December could be. Today was Morgan's day to watch Kate — the first free time Hester had had in nearly three months. She took the dog straight to Block 11 in Somerville's Union Square, where she ordered the biggest cup of coffee available and a scone to split with the basset hound. She added cream and seven sugars to the coffee. At the park, she let Waffles off the leash to have at it with the other dogs and then planned her day. Maybe she'd hit the Brattle Theater for that George Romero series, or wander the streets of Cambridge, or drink till she was drunk. Maybe she'd do all three.
"You're off somewhere."
Hester glanced up at Prachi — O'Keefe the greyhound's "mom" — who loomed over her (though even some ten-year-olds loomed over Hester). As always, Prachi, who was a partner in a corporate law firm, looked relaxed, with her cocoa-colored skin and the well-rested eyes of the child free.
"Just daydreaming," Hester said.
"We missed you last night," Prachi said.
Prachi and her partner, Jane, threw an early-winter party each year, one where guests spilled into every room and the air smelled of curry instead of cloves. It was an event Hester looked forward to, but the party hadn't started till eight, which had meant nine, well after Kate's bedtime.
"Finding a babysitter on a Friday in December is next to impossible," Hester said. "Who knew?"
"Darling, you can still hit the town," Prachi said. "It's not like you died. We all love Kate."
"I'm learning how to do this as I go along. Turns out there's no manual on raising someone else's kid."
"Any word from Daphne?"
"Nada," Hester said.
Daphne was Kate's mother and Morgan's twin sister. She was also Hester's best friend. Hester had known her since college, long before Daphne had introduced her to Morgan. Three months earlier, in September, Daphne had skipped town while Hester and Morgan had been out to dinner with Prachi and Jane. The four of them had come home, drunk and ready for a nightcap, only to find Kate asleep with a note beside her. On it, Daphne had written in block letters: Back in an hour. Tops.
They hadn't heard from her since.
Hester wasn't surprised — Daphne had a history of disappearing for long stretches and then showing up unannounced as though she'd gone to the gym for an hour — but Hester still worried about her friend, and the kid thing upped the stakes, to say the least. She didn't have kids of her own, and that was by choice.
She called to Waffles. As usual, the basset had found something far too fragrant to bother coming. "I should see what she got into," she said to Prachi. "I'll catch you tomorrow."
At the house, Hester heard Kate say, "No," her not-so-new favorite word, and she opened the door in time to see a plastic bowl of Cheerios skid across the kitchen floor. Morgan was on the phone, his red morning hair still sticking straight up. He was handsome in a kind way, with freckles that merged into each other and green eyes that matched his sister's. He went to the gym, but without conviction. He mouthed "please" as he handed over a piping-hot bowl of oatmeal. Ever since Kate had moved into the house, Morgan had proven himself to be hapless at childcare. He gave Kate orange soda for breakfast and let her run wild in the park while he yammered on his cell phone. And whenever Hester tried to bring up Daphne, to talk about what was happening to them, he acted like leaving a three-year-old alone in an apartment while you skip town was normal behavior for a parent. But then Morgan and Daphne always watched out for each other, no matter what the behavior. They were twins in every way.
Hester let the leash drop so that Waffles could do the majority of the cereal cleanup, and then lifted Kate from her high chair while the kid shouted, "Kate hate Cheerios!" even though some days she ate only Cheerios. Hester chased her through the living room, around the dining table, into Morgan's office, up the stairs, through each of their bedrooms, and down the stairs, till she finally caught Kate, lifted her up, tickled her, strapped her into the chair, and poured another bowl of cereal, which Kate ate like she hadn't been fed in a week.
"Never," Hester said, as she mussed Kate's curly hair. "I will never understand the logic of being three years old. Not in one million years."
"Not in one million years," Kate aped.
Morgan hung up the phone. "That was the emergency animal hospital in Porter Square."
Though Morgan had his own veterinary practice, once Kate had moved in with them — and her preschool bills had begun showing up — he'd started taking spare shifts whenever he could.
"They need someone last-minute."
Hester smiled at Kate and then waved Morgan to the other side of the apartment. "Are you shitting me?" she whispered.
Morgan smiled in a way that usually got him what he wanted, but all Hester could see was a spot of fury that had taken the place of the day on her own.
"Sorry, Mrs.," he said
A part of her understood, the part that knew they needed the money. But most of her wanted to scream. Plus, she hated it when he called her "Mrs." "You owe me," she said. "Big time."
Morgan kissed her cheek, put his coat on, and whistled for Waffles to come with him. Soon Hester heard him back his truck out of the driveway. "You're stuck with me today, kid," she said, though now Kate was only interested in her stuffed monkey, Monkey, dancing the toy across her lap and saying, "Monkey One Hundred Forty Silly Pants eating bananas," which sounded like "Mokah anhendrd farty sesty pints tang banants." Hester couldn't believe she understood anything the kid said. It was a secret language that only she, Kate, and Monkey spoke. In truth, Hester couldn't believe any of this was happening. But it was.
She sat at the counter and tapped a finger on the granite. The long, unstructured day stretched in front of her. One of the mothers at day care had asked to schedule a playdate only yesterday, and Hester had answered evasively, still unable to commit, still wondering whether Daphne would stroll through the door at any moment expecting things to go back to normal. What was normal, anyway? She pulled up the Brattle Theater schedule on her phone and wondered momentarily if Kate could sit through Night of the Living Dead without getting too scared.
She really was a shit parent.
Her phone rang. She didn't recognize the number with a New Hampshire area code but picked up anyway.
"I heard that you find people," a woman said. "That you're discreet."
Hester ran a little side business finding random strangers, a business she'd begun more than fifteen years earlier when she'd been working toward a master's in library science. At the time, the library provided access to information unavailable to the average person, and Hester had managed to reunite all different types, from long-lost prom dates to birth parents with their children. Eventually the Web gave most people the tools they needed to find their own missing connections, and she'd assumed the business would go the way of the corner video store. It turned out, though, that there were always people who chose to live quiet lives off the grid, to keep to themselves, and to stay away from technology.
She dumped her uneaten oatmeal into the garbage disposal. "I can be discreet," she said. Whenever she got one of these queries, she listened to the tenor of the voice on the other end of the phone. It was surprising how many people could give off crazy in a few disembodied sentences.
"I'm in the city today," the woman said. "Can we meet?"
"What's your name?"
"Who are you looking for?"
"My brother Sam. He's been missing for twelve years."
* * *
"Pink poodle!" Kate said.
She and Hester were on the bus headed from Union Square toward Cambridge talking about what Santa might bring for the holiday. They'd already gone skating in the morning, and to the Boston Aquarium that afternoon, where Hester had made the rookie parenting mistake of telling Kate that sharks ate people. Kate had pressed her hand to the glass as a shark swam by and then pulled it away with a shriek. "Shark eat people!" she'd said.
"Don't tell your uncle Morgan," Hester had said. "You'll get me in trouble."
Now they were on their way to Harvard Square to meet Lila Blaine.
"Do you mean a poodle with pink clothes or a poodle with pink fur?" Hester asked. Kate kicked the seat in front of her and said, "PINK FUR" in two piercingly short notes.
"Inside voice," Hester said.
Had those words really come from her own mouth? The things she said these days in the name of friendship! She'd met Daphne nearly two decades earlier at Wellesley, where Daphne had taught self-defense for Women's Safety Week. On the first day of the course, right in front of a dozen other women, Daphne pinned Hester to the ground with her knee, shouting, "Size doesn't matter. Fight!"
Daphne was a solid field hockey player, much bigger and stronger than Hester, but Hester kicked anyway. She squirmed. She twisted. Or at least she tried to. She heard one of the women in the course giggle while most of them cheered her on.
"Survive!" Daphne shouted. "Use your strengths. Be smart. The only thing you think about is how to stay alive."
And Hester relaxed. She grew even smaller than she already was. She pulled into herself. She felt the pressure from Daphne's knee release the slightest bit. She twisted away. Her elbow shot from her side. She felt a crack and a crunch and then a thick warmth, and Daphne stumbled back with her hands covering her face as blood streamed from her broken nose.
"I'm so sorry," Hester said.
"Sorry?" Daphne said. "Fuck sorry. That's how you stay alive."
Daphne was used to fighting. For anything and everything. She and Morgan came from a family of ten children. They'd grown up in South Boston, where, by all accounts, nearly everything but other bodies had been scarce. They'd watched out for each other, though, in ways that Hester, who'd spent a lifetime watching out for herself, couldn't comprehend, and they'd both succeeded by their own wits, Daphne getting into Wellesley on a field hockey scholarship and Morgan going to UMass. By the time Hester met her in college, Daphne had morphed into a leather chick who quoted Adrienne Rich and called NPR too conservative. On most Saturday nights, she roped Hester into riding the Fuck Truck to MIT frat parties and then disappeared into the upstairs bedrooms.
After graduation, Daphne and Hester rented an apartment in Alston. That's when Hester met Morgan. Like Hester, Morgan loved his sister more than anyone, and ignored that she moved rapidly from one job to the next, always leaving on explosively bad terms. They both made excuses for Daphne's dangerous boyfriends, and when her experiments with drugs veered away from dabbling. But then Kate came along, and everything changed. And things kept changing — the dynamic in their relationships, their priorities, Hester's own outlook — and she suspected that those changes, and all the tensions that came with them, had only just begun.
* * *
The bus pulled into Harvard Square. Hester worked as a librarian at Harvard's Widener Library, though she'd taken a leave of absence in September when Kate had come to live with them. She'd be back at work come spring semester, and a part of her couldn't wait for that routine, but for now she took Kate's hand as they hurried through the cold, across Winthrop Square to Grendel's Den, a bohemian pub located a few blocks from the bus stop. She grabbed a table with a clear view of the doorway, pulling out a coloring book, a My Little Pony, and a box of crayons.
"Aunt Hester is meeting a friend in a few minutes," she said to Kate. "Do you think you can be quiet while we talk?"
"Kate quiet!" Kate said in a voice that was anything but.
A very young and very tattooed waitress stopped by. "Sam Adams," Hester said as she unzipped Kate's coat.
"ID?" the waitress asked.
Hester slid her license across the table.
"Is this for real? You look about twelve."
At four feet, nine and three-quarters inches tall, Hester was a quarter inch into little person territory. She weighed eighty-nine pounds and had black hair, alabaster skin, and the voice of a two-pack-a-day smoker. More than one obnoxious stranger had told her she looked like a china doll, but Hester had learned long ago to make up for her height with confidence, even when she had to fake it. As Morgan often told her, there was nothing sexier than a woman who took charge.
"How old is Aunt Hester?" she asked Kate.
The waitress nodded. "What does she want?"
"Orange soda," Kate said.
The waitress cocked her head for confirmation.
"How about apple juice instead?" Hester said, prepping herself for a tantrum, but Kate, miraculously, settled in with the coloring book and pink crayon. Hester took advantage of the momentary silence to open her tablet and read through what she'd learned about Lila Blaine. A quick search of Lila's Facebook page had shown that she valued her privacy settings. She didn't have a LinkedIn account, but Hester had managed to determine she was thirty-five years old and lived in Holderness, New Hampshire, an enclave of New England's WASPy elite. The only mention of her online was when she petitioned the town to change the terms of a trust on some lakefront property. Hester had spent the day imagining a woman clad in head-to-toe Patagonia, someone who skied, hiked, and entertained friends on a lovingly maintained Chris Craft, and at five o'clock on the dot, the door to the pub opened and a woman entered who nearly fit that description, minus the wealth. She wore a navy parka, had a no-nonsense auburn-colored braid that tumbled down her back, and had the healthy build and complexion of someone used to working outside. She also didn't look like someone who'd put up with much.
"Lila?" Hester said.
"You're Hester Thursby?"
"In the flesh."
Lila put her hands on a chair and surveyed the scene in front of her — a tiny woman and a three-year-old dressed in head-to-toe pink — and Hester could only imagine what was going through her head. "It must have been a long drive," she said. "Grab something to drink."
Kate put a pink rubber boot on the table. "Aunt Hester like my boots?" she asked.
"I love them," Hester said.
"You didn't mention there'd be a kid," Lila said.
"I'm new to the kid thing," Hester said. "I still forget that she goes where I go. Sometimes there's a dog too. But like I said on the phone today, there's no obligation. If you decide you'd rather hire someone else, then I'll be on my way."
Lila shrugged and then flagged down the waitress to order tea. She struggled out of the coat, and they made conversation till the waitress set the teapot on the table. Lila's hand shook as she poured and added sugar. Finally, she said, "I expected someone a bit ..."
"Taller?" Hester said.
"Yeah, that too."
Hester was used to easing clients through their reservations, and would have been wary of anyone who wasn't at least a little reluctant to hire her. "I don't carry a gun or know how to fight very well, but I do have a pretty good track record in finding people. And if it helps, I've worked with plenty of people who've lost someone. Once, a couple hired me because they'd lost one of their grown daughters. She was number seven of thirteen, and they'd simply forgotten about her for a while. Turned out she moved to the next town over. Really, I can help you find your brother. If that's what you want."
Lila scratched at her index finger like she had eczema. "What do you need to know?"
Hester opened the folder. "Let's start with the basics. What's your brother's name?"
"I haven't a clue what he goes by now."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Little Comfort"
Copyright © 2018 Edwin Hill.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Little Comfort" stars a librarian, but it is not a cozy! This is a fast-paced thriller set in Boston, Somerville and New Hampshire. Harvard librarian Hester Thursby is on leave, caring for the 3 year old daughter of her best friend Daphne (who has a habit of disappearing for days, weeks and months at a time). Hester maintains her side business of finding lost people - including some that will go to any length not to be found. The author does a great job with describing both settings and characters. Everyone in the book is flawed, and makes questionable decisions - just like in the real world. I had trouble putting this one down, and can't wait for the next book in the series!
A few years ago I spent large portions of a vacation missing all the magnificent sites around me as I was unable to put down a book- well, “Little Comfort” did it to me again. I was thoroughly sucked in from the get go. Mystery-solving Hester and the characters around her are not to be missed. It's the kind of book that makes you immediately rip open the sequel, and I just hope more installments will be on the way STAT.
A New England thriller like no other. Hill's writing wraps you into the DNA of place, plot, and character from the start and doesn't let up. What a ride.... More please!
The first thing I want to say about the debut novel, Little Comfort, is that it was not what I expected. The description ticked specific boxes: librarian, amateur sleuth, missing person, New England setting. All those boxes indicated a straightforward, undemanding, somewhat escapist mystery, at least to me. How much trouble can a librarian get into? A tremendous amount evidently. Hester Thursby is 36 years old, 4.9 (and 3/4) inch librarian at Harvard University. She has a rather odd living arrangement in an old house with Hester's "non-husband" Morgan, her best friend from college, Daphne, and Daphne's three-year-old, Kate. Daphne disappeared months previously, leaving Kate and a note. Morgan is Daphne's brother, and the two decide to take on parenting responsibility until Daphne returns. Most of that responsibility has fallen to Hester, something about which she is very conflicted. She has even taken leave from her job to stay at home with Kate although she never felt any desire for a child. Hester has built a sideline using her research skills to help find people, mostly old schoolmates, prom dates, out of touch relatives and the like. Her interest is piqued when she is approached by Lila Blaine to find her brother, Sam, who disappeared from their lakeside home in New Hampshire. Apparently, his friend Gabe vanished with him. The two could not be more different. Sam was handsome, charismatic, and evidently willing to do whatever it would take to elevate himself into the life of the rich people who come to the lake in the summer. Gabe was "invisible", both to himself and others, and bounced from one foster home to another. Lila provides Hester with a stack of postcards sent from cities Sam has lived in over the years, complete with cryptic messages. It takes Hester precisely two days to find Sam and Gabe, right in Boston, and a trail of death and destruction in their wake. I won't say any more about the plot, which has twists and turns that made my head spin. The characters in Little Comfort are the real stand-out, however. Sam and Gabe are chilling psychopaths, but somehow Edwin Hill makes one of them if not sympathetic, at least pitiable. Hester herself is a flawed character whose cavalier disregard for her own safety and Kate's made me want to shake her at times. Her job as an investigator is not a "take your kid to work" situation. Hester is the embodiment of "tiny but fierce." Many thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. Little Comfort won a coveted "Starred Review" by Publishers Weekly and deserves it. The opinions are my own.
It is amazing such an accomplished thriller with multiple plot lines was written by a debut author. Kudos to Edwin Hill for the marvelous PI/thriller/family drama, Little Comfort! Hester lives in a separate apartment in the same building as her boyfriend Morgan. Morgan’s twin sister, Daphne, and her three-year-old Kate live in the third apartment. Daphne leaves Kate alone in Morgan’s apartment with a note stating she would return in an hour. Three months later, Daphne is still missing. Hester has taken on primary caregiving activities for Kate forcing her to take a leave of absence from her job as a librarian at Harvard. When she gets a new client in her private missing person service, she begins investigating her client’s missing brother, Sam. Sam disappeared 12 years ago when only 15 with his best friend, foster child Gabe. The only clue are bi-monthly homemade postcards of locations around the US. All include cryptic movie quotes. What begins as a simple missing person case quickly escalates into a deadly cat and mouse hunt. Little Comfort ratchets up the reader’s dread with parallel storylines from five points of view. This book approaches a familiar plot from a different perspective. As the characters’ motivations are reluctantly drawn out even originally unsympathetic characters make the reader empathize with the choices they made. Little Comfort is highly recommended as an emotion-riddled original reworking of the thriller genre. 5 stars! Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Hester Thursby may be small in stature, but she’s big on moxie! When she’s not working at Harvard’s Widener library, she’s a people-finder and she’s working a case for Lila who is searching for her long-lost brother. But how easy can it be to find a missing person (or a person in hiding) with not only a long-eared basset hound in tow, but also her new charge – three-year-old Kate, the little girl who was practically abandoned by her mother. Eventually, this case becomes more than expected when Hester makes a new acquaintance who suddenly becomes her biggest fan. The story is well paced, had a great setup for both a mystery and a thriller, and great character development for the most part. There were a few stereotypical assumptions that grated, but Hill called them out himself. My only lasting gripe is that Hester’s character didn’t seem consistent throughout. She came off as a bit wishy-washy, behaving in ways contrary to the confident, dauntless personality we are initially introduced to. Little Comfort is the first in a series with a second Hester Thursby mystery expected in 2019. After this mystery with its unconventional, feisty protagonist and its unexpectedly twisted reveal, I’d be down to read more about Hester’s adventures.
Little Comfort by Edwin Hill Wow! Swept me in and kept me engaged from beginning to end! This is a story of loneliness, wanting to belong, wanting more and needing to be wanted. It is also the story of what ifs…what if those needs just mentioned had been met early in life and had not created such a huge vacuum that allowed choices to be made that would lead in a completely different direction. Hester Thursby is a librarian. She is in a loving relationship and has been for a number of years. She and her partner are caring for the daughter of his sister and they are a family that Thursby really never envisioned herself being a part of. She is an interesting self-made person that I found intriguing. She sometimes doesn’t use the best judgment but she is who she is and makes no bones about it. Hester is asked by Lila to find her brother – a brother she has not seen for twelve years – a brother that left with a friend – a brother who was only fourteen or so when he left. Hester is a finder of people and as a librarian and sleuth she has had great success so with some postcards from brother Sam sent from various places he has lived Hester begins to search and soon finds Sam and his friend Gabe not too far away. As the story unfolds hints about the characters are leaked that indicate what one might surmise on first meetings is not necessarily true at all. The person that seems to be good could very well be just the opposite. The bad guy may not be quite as bad as he seems…or then again…he could be. I came away thinking about the difference one choice can make. That choice can be made by self or it can be made by someone else. That choice can lead to a life that is filled with light or darkness. This book will stay with me a long while and I have to say I am intrigued by Hester, Morgan and Kate and look forward to more books by this author whether in a series starring Hester or something else completely different. This is an author I will be looking forward to reading again soon. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 5 Stars