Book Review: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford - More2Read

The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford

In the early 2000s, a string of abductions rocked the small upstate town of Reine, New York. Only one girl survived: Alex Salerno. The killer, Ken Parsons, was sent away. Life returned to normal. No more girls would have to die. Until another one did.

It’s been seven years since Kira Shanks was reported missing and presumed dead. Alex Salerno has been living in New York City, piecemealing paychecks to earn a livable wage, trying to forget those three days locked underground and her affair with Sean Riley, the married detective who rescued her. When Noah Lee, hometown reporter with a journalistic pedigree, requests an interview, Alex returns to Reine and Riley, reopening old wounds. What begins as a Q&A for a newspaper article soon turns into an opportunity for money, closure and—justice. The disappearance of Kira Shanks has long been hung on Benny Brudzienski, a hulking man-child who is currently a brain-addled guest at the Galloway State Mental Hospital. But after Alex reconnects with ex-classmates and frenemies, doubts are cast on that guilt. Alex is drawn into a dangerous game of show and tell in an insular town where everyone has a secret to hide. And as more details emerge about the night Kira Shanks went missing, Alex discovers there are some willing to kill to protect the horrific truth.

In the modern vein of Dark Places and Mystic River, The One That Got Away is a dark, psychological thriller featuring a compelling, conflicted heroine and a page-turning narrative that races toward its final, shocking conclusion.



Praise for The One That Got Away:

“A great book! I devoured it. Taut, pacey and with a powerful sense of place, Joe Clifford’s The One Got Away is an intelligent and astutely observed piece of American small-town noir.”
—Paula Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water

“Joe Clifford is a gifted storyteller with a knack for crafting characters who are entirely human. The One That Got Away is dark and unforgiving, a chilling crime novel with the perfect touch of tenderness that will keep readers turning the pages with haste. This is one book you won’t be able to put down.
—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl and Every Last Lie

“The mystery of The One That Got Away sucked me in, but it was the emotional punch of Alex Salerno’s return home that broke my heart. With its sharply observed characters and setting and crime-thriller pace, its tough exterior belies a vast, unexpected tenderness. I cannot not quit thinking about this book.”
—Emily Carpenter, author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls and The Weight of Lies

“It’s not often that I read a top-notch thriller with layers of emotion buried within each page. The One That Got Away is by far Clifford’s best and most fully realized novel to date, and might well be the most rewarding thriller I’ve read this year.”
—Jennifer Hillier, author of Jar of Hearts

“Joe Clifford crafts a unique detective story with a flawed central character in Alex Salerno. His true skill lies in that he was able to make the Northeastern town of Reine into the co-central character, one even more flawed than Alex. Its life is even more sullied, darker and full of worse choices than hers ever could have been, and that is the gritty magic of the book. Read the novel for the last few pages, which are delicious in their noir conclusion.”
—Ryan Sayles, author of Albatross

“This seething story of small-town noir should appeal to fans of Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector.” Publishers Weekly


Idlewild Motel, what really took place on that cold November morning seven years ago the one that got away must uncover, almost as a therapy to her own terrible days past.
There is Kira, missing, still no body.
The main protagonist Alex Salerno, the one that got away from being snatched and imprisoned against her will.
That time left behind many things, scars, faint scars on the undersides of her forearm and wrist, and tender things, vulnerable things.
One that got away needs to stay safe treading on familiar dark passage of time again battling all that went on and a little town she wished never existed, bad times, bad mums, bad peoples, finding truth on one suspect that seems to be in a corner.
“Blood and DNA found at the Idlewild Motel just off the interstate where Benny worked as a handyman linked him to the scene.”
The first person narration of Benny was engrossing, with his complexities and point of view of what had partaken in Kira’s days alive.
There’s a rhythm to his writing, I like the cast of characters he used in this and previously read Broken Ground. At odds, truths uncovered, and rising above things, grit, flawed, his themes give revitalising lift to mystery telling. 


“Alex Salerno had been the last of several young girls kidnapped by a man named Kenneth Parsons, who was currently serving several, concurrent life sentences far away without chance of parole. He’d die in prison. Kira Shanks had been murdered by a different man altogether. Five long years separated the crimes. Nothing tied the two cases together.”

“That was supposed to be where she ended up. In the cold, cold ground. Alex had something in common with those girls. She shared nothing in common with the perky cheerleader who’d gotten too close to the village idiot.”

“If Alex had been hope, Kira Shanks came to represent something else. The mystery surrounding her disappearance, the horror that had latched onto Alex by proxy. After Kira Shanks, when people saw Alex, they saw a dead girl walking. Triumphant tales rewritten, no one emerged victorious; there could be no happy endings. There were only the ghost stories told by parents to frighten children about boogeymen who waited in the dark to snatch unwitting prey from the safety of their beds. So behave, eat your vegetables, listen to Mom and Dad, go to sleep on time, or what happened to those girls will happen to you, too.”

“There was this sicko up by the lake. Kenneth Parsons. Abducted girls. Typical candy-in-a-van pervert shit. But good looking, blond hair, blue eyes, had money. Didn’t take much to lure them back to his castle on the water. He targeted the needy ones desperate for attention. No daddies.” A sneer cracked his lips. “He did…things…to them. When he was done, he’d bury them in his backyard. Except one of them got away.” “Oh, yeah, I remember that,” Dan said. “This is the girl that got away?” “This is the girl who got away.”



Joe Clifford is the author of several books, including The One That Got Away, Junkie Love, and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of the anthologies Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen; Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, and Hard Sentences, which he co-edited. Joe’s writing can be found at



Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 30 November 2018