A talented but depressed architect who is the primary suspect in the disappearance of his wife sets out to not only find her but solve deeply troubling questions about his own past. Ray Jackson is a gifted architect whose reputation has just taken off but he has severe emotional problems stemming from a nomadic, secretive childhood. He has been building models of the many house he lived in as a child, hoping to help himself remember his past. His wife Leigh has been having an affair with his business partner and best friend. When Ray confronts her she maintains he neglected her because of his model building and that she was also frustrated and depressed by his refusal to have a child. Ray fantasizes about strangling her.
Leigh was a poor little rich girl who grew up across the street from a working class family that included Kat, Jacki, and their brother Tom. Kat and Leigh were inseparable and eventually Tom and Leigh fell in love. Leigh's family did not approve and eventually Leigh dumped Tom in favor of marrying Ray, an up and coming architect. Tom committed suicide and Kat never spoke to Leigh again. Years later, Jacki convinces Kat to renew her friendship with Leigh but when she attempts to contact her Kat finds Leigh has disappeared.
Leigh's parents are distraught. Leigh talked to her mother everyday and was extremely close to her parents. They tell the police she would never leave without letting them know. They and the police hound Ray but he is content to wallow in depression building the models that he believes will unlock the secret to his childhood. He has very few possessions from his childhood and no photographs. All he really has is a large ring of keys. He had been a latchkey kid and he kept one key from each house he and his mother lived in. Ray's father died when he was two but his mother is his best friend and supports him no matter what, even lying to the police for him to create an alibi. However, she refuses to answer any questions about his childhood. Kat believes that Ray is hiding something and decides to follow him. Ray decides to visit one of his childhood homes and to his dismay finds that he had remembered many of the details wrong. He begins visiting each of his old homes, breaking into the houses to see inside.
Ray remembers that his mother had secret hiding places in each house so Ray sets out to find each hidey-hole convinced they are the key to his questions. He finds an old cassette tape in each hiding place. Each cassette has different snippets of conversation between his mother and a man who is threatening her. Ray decides the man was his father. Still, his mother refuses to answer his questions or speak to him at all. She even takes back her key o her current house. Feeling abandoned by the women in his life, Ray becomes even more driven to unlock the mystery, neglecting his career.
Unbeknownst to Ray, Kat (who has become obsessed with finding Leigh) has been following him on his quest. At one home, Ray barely escapes the homeowner and Kat picks him up in her car as he is running away chased by a dog. From this point on, Kat and Ray begin to work together to find Leigh, although Kat is convinced that Ray had something to do with her disappearance.
During all of this, Ray is designing a house and a museum that will be the biggest deal of his career while putting up with his partner whom he now detests. Ray confronts his partner, Martin, about his affair with Leigh, involving the office staff in their argument. Martin has also slept with most of the women in the office who now become angry at him. When the police question Martin about Leigh's disappearance he denies any knowledge but one of the secretaries spills the details of his affair with Leigh. Now the police believe Ray had a motive. Ray fantasizes about killing Martin.
Kat continues to urge Ray to search for Leigh and finally he agrees. They comb through her belongings and find a diary in which Leigh wrote poetry about her love for Ray as well as her loss of Tom. Kat and Ray decide to search her family's mountain cabin and set off for the five hour drive. They find Leigh's favorite t-shirt there, crumpled in a corner, torn and blood-stained. They travel to a nearby Indian reservation that Leigh had mentioned. Eventually, they find Leigh who was staying there hoping Ray would figure out where she was and come find her.
During Ray's absence, Ray's mother goes on a bender and passes out at home. Unable to rouse her, Ray breaks into the basement of her house while Leigh and Kat wait outside. His mother hears him and takes a butcher knife down to greet him. She decides to kill her son because he won't let the past alone. In the basement, Ray discovers she has put up a new brick wall but did a poor job of it and it is crumbling. He pulls away one of the bricks and sees a body hidden behind the wall. His mother then comes at him with a knife. She explains that when Ray was an infant, she had been driving drunk with Ray in the car when she crashed. Furious, Ray's father divorced her and got full custody of Ray. She kidnapped Ray and hid out, moving every time he found them. Finally, she had killed him and buried him in the basement. She had taped every call he made to her and then erased everything but snippets that made it sound like he was threatening her. She ten hid the tapes so that if the police found the body she could have proof it was self-defense. After her confession she attempts to kill Ray but he subdues her. She is sentenced to prison.
Leigh and Kat renew their childhood friendship. Leigh and Ray renew their love and Leigh becomes pregnant. Ray visits his mother in prison but decides not to tell her about her grandchild. With mommy dearest safely behind bars and the partnership with Martin dissolved, Leigh and Ray move to a new home and contemplate their happily ever after.
Best part of story, including ending:
The writing is good and the dialog is well written but there are too many factors that are implausible. Wouldn't a devoted daughter who visited with her parents daily at least call them to let them know she was okay rather than just disappear? If she and her parents were as close as was described wouldn't they have noticed something was wrong? When Leigh didn't return her phone call after being estranged for ten years wouldn't Kat just assume Leigh didn't want to talk to her? Would someone as practical and hardworking as Kat just abandon her own hard won business to engage in illegal activity and run off with a stranger to chase someone not even reported as missing? There are many details like this that just don't set right. The final reason I didn't like it was the devoted mother turned out to be a selfish murderer.
Best scene in story:
I really enjoyed the scene where Ray broke into one of the houses and discovered a hoarder lived there. The description was very vivid. There were stacks of newspapers and magazines and junk with only a narrow pathway through the house. Ray becomes trapped in a tiny cellar with decades old jars of canned fruit. He has to search through the spider webs and gross gunk to try to find his mother's hiding place. The description is so creepy I could smell the mildew.
Opinion about the main character:
Ray just seems really cold, controlling and disinterested in anything but himself. He is only interested in solving the mystery of his own past although his wife has disappeared. He eventually rises to the challenge but only after Kat refuses to be put off. I also didn't like that he asked his mother to lie for him and create an alibi for him which she did without question but he immediately turned on her when she needed help.