Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen
Simon and Schuster, 2020. ISBN: 9781982152581.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) Highly recommended. Lily returns to Atlantic City, where she grew up, after her relationship and her job in New York finished. Atlantic City seems to reflect her condition, she has lost confidence in her self and is drinking too much, while her home town is slowly shutting down. The casinos are closing and the hotels and beach front along the board walk are looking shabby. The populace seem aimless and shell shocked, while the number of homeless is ever growing.
Lily does find work in an up market spa as a receptionist but finds the work unrewarding, and her work place is struggling to survive in a city with few rich clientele. She does find two people she can relate with, Emily who works with her at the spa and a young girl Clara Voyant a psychic who works on the boardwalk.
The reader also hears from the Jane Does who lie in the marshy area behind the run down seedy Sunset Motel. All have come to Atlantic City seeking some sort of dream or escape. But all are quickly disappointed and turn to the only option which is open to young girls with no connections and little money. There is only one person who does notice them and he is a serial killer.
Clara has read the tarot cards with some of them or with family who have come to search for them and she begins to catch glimpses of their lives as well as fractured flashes of their deaths. These visions are sudden and increase in frequency and often leave her vulnerable and frightened. She and Lily try to help Peaches a young prostitute who has decided to get out of town and return home. Clara has become increasingly disturbed by her visions and believes Peaches is in danger, but she seems to have disappeared - neither can find her in her usual haunts. Lily's coworker also seems to have gone missing. Emily has given no insight into her life outside the spa, and her dreams of college and further education require far more money then she can earn at the spa.
Both Clara and Lily's lives are endangered as they find themselves embroiled in the seedy underworld of Atlantic City. It is only by a hair's breadth that Lily doesn't become yet another victim to be left in the marsh behind the Sunset Motel.
This is Caitlin Mullen's debut novel, which is disturbing yet satisfying at the same time. There is great sympathy for the two main characters Lily and Clara who have been used and abused by those they loved and relied upon. The setting of Atlantic City is also a marvellous feature of the novel, its faded glory, peeling veneer of the casinos and once swanky hotels now closed or providing packages for much less well heeled small town Americans. A disturbing insight into the underbelly of the USA and a pause for thought for those who live in the shadows. Themes: Crime fiction, Atlantic City (USA), Casinos, Serial killers.
A page turner.