Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. And I’ve got to say up front that I’d told myself I wasn’t going to write anything more about the Ayla Reynolds case until something happened. I can’t wait that long.
Ayla is the toddler who disappeared from her father’s house in Waterville December 17 of last year. Hundreds of police, game wardens, and volunteers have searched for her. They’ve used planes and boats and tracking dogs. They searched so hard they found another body along the bank of a nearby stream, the remains of a man believed to have committed suicide several years ago.
The area has been scoured and there’s no sign of the little girl, whose face is now familiar to the public from buttons, T-shirts, posters, a photo supplied by police. Ayla is gone.
Police are still working the case hard, of course, but the only recourse for the public is vigils. They’ve had six. The last one was in a local church. Ben McCanna, covering the story for the Morning Sentinel, reported the minister said, “We’re not here to figure it out.”
This particular vigil was marked by an appearance from Ayla’s dad, Justin DiPietro, who said things had gone off track, with all the talk about him and the mom, Trista Reynolds, “when it should have been about Ayla.” Well, the cops would say it is all about the child, has been from the beginning. There is no evidence of an abduction, they say. Her blood was found in the basement. Investigators (and this is unusual) have also said publicly that DiPietro and the other two adults in the house the night Ayla Reynolds disappeared are not answering truthfully when asked, “Is there something you’re not telling us?”
I hope the police are wrong, that some cuckoo neighbor took Ayla, that she’ll be found safe and sound. Happy ending. Next story.
Now I don’t mean to rehash this whole thing but I also can’t help but feel the case has hit pretty close to home. My last book was about a baby who disappeared from his druggie mom’s apartment. Cops searched, interviewed, interrogated. They had multiple suspects, as many theories. The mom traded the child for drugs. The mom sold the child to a couple for a lot of money. The dad took him. The dad hired somebody to take him. Somebody took the child as payment for a drug debt. Somebody took the child because they thought the mom was unfit.
As the author, I knew where he was, of course. And even before I’d decided how the book would end, I knew two outcomes were off the table. The child wouldn’t be harmed. And he would be found. The mystery would be solved. I’d make sure of that.
So reading the paper this week– the vigil, the minister, the Ayla T-shirts—I was struck by how different my story really is from this real-life version. Yes, I have tough cops. I have very bad people. I have an innocent child who may be in harm’s way. I have violence and anger and suspicion. I even have innocent people who die. But I avoid the possibilities I can’t stomach. That the child will be hurt or molested. Or that his whereabouts will never be known and the people responsible will never be brought to justice.
From cozy to the toughest noir, mystery novels are a refuge from harsh reality. Sure, we read these real-crime stories with fascination. Some of us, including me, spent years reporting them. But no matter what crime we invent, we won’t match real life. We refuse.
In our invented worlds, there is justice. There is order, despite the murders, the killers run amok. In the end, and it may take a few hundred pages to get there, the good guys win. Or at least some of them.
I read the latest Ayla story in the newspaper and I thought, what if they never find her? A horrible thought but what if this is it? What if the mystery remains unresolved for years. Decades. It happens. Just last week, the FBI was digging up a cellar floor in New York City looking for the body of a six-year-old who disappeared in 1979. In my book, if they found his body they’d find bastard who killed him.
After reading all of this horrible stuff this week I needed a break. I went to the library and looked down the mystery shelf. I found a skinny, worn copy of a mystery by Dick Francis. It’s called Enquiry and it was published in 1970. It’s about a jockey who is wrongly accused of throwing a race. Very old-fashioned. There are no missing children. There are no child kidnappers. There are no child killers. The bad guys are bad and the good guys are good.
So I pushed the newspapers aside and sat on the couch with a mystery novel. For 250 pages, I escaped. I hope you get to do the same.
Thanks for a thoughtful, sensitive essay. Carolyn Hart once said that in the world of the mysteries she creates, the good guys always win. I agree. I can’t control much of what happens in the real, often sad, world we live in. But in my mysteries, I want the good guys to win, justice to prevail.
Thanks, Evelyn David
You and me both, Evelyn.
I’ve certainly read books where the missing child didn’t come home, but these books and all mysteries have one thing in common–solution and resolution. That’s what I crave and what we so often don’t get in life.
Stasis on the surface while police work grinds very slowly below doesn’t make for a good novel, but it is often sad reality.
Though we’ve all read those grinding police procedurals. I don’t think they’re published anymore but in the 50s and 60s. John Creasey comes to mind. Lots of tea for the inspectors.
Gerry, thanks for putting this so cogently. I’ve had enormous reluctance to read crime fiction in the past month, as our community is still in shock from the murder of Melissa Jenkins. But when I do focus on a good book — like yours — it’s a relief to see justice being served.
Yes, Beth, you’ve got one that stays with you for a long time. New Hampshire had the mother and daughter and the home invasion. Connecticut had the doctor and his family. Convictions in both, life sentences. I put down the paper and flee to my fictional world.