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The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott is a psychological thriller that explores family dynamics. The story of missing loved ones grabs at the readers, sparking curiosity. Readers are drawn into the story, feeling empathy for the characters.
The plot unfolds with the touching thoughts of Mariah, “My mom would never leave me.” Beth Dunning, Mariah’s mom has disappeared without a trace and has been missing for a year. The police chief, Dennis Broussard, who once had feelings for Beth, suspects Mariah’s dad, Craig. Broussard has tunnel vision since there is no body and no physical evidence linking Craig to the supposed murder. Mariah feels compelled to clear her father’s name and find her mom, considering the townspeople are trying to run the Dunnings out of town. Her feelings jump from guilt to anger to loneliness. Determined to investigate she takes the suggestion of a high school friend who is now a true-crime blogger. The estranged wife, Bethany Curtis, of a tech millionaire, also went missing six months earlier. What links the two disappearances is the name, Beth. What Mariah finds out is that many of the answers lie with a third Beth, Lizbeth, who seems very elusive. As the clues lead her closer to answers, she and her dad are threatened, with the truth more devastating than she could have imagined.
Readers will get into the minds of all the characters. They follow the betrayals, lies, and deceits and realize that most of the characters are very flawed. People will not want to put this book down, until they also find answers and the truth regarding the disappearance of the three Beths.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Jeff Abbott: There were these two separate ideas that came together. I thought about these cases where someone has gone missing and the police have a pretty good idea of who did it, but no evidence. Sometimes in that situation it is a family member. That brought me to the second idea where I kept thinking what it would be like for a daughter to be constantly defending an accused parent. The OJ Simpson case is a famous example. How did his children regard their father? What would it be like to live as a family member after their father was accused of murder? The characters of Mariah and Craig popped into my mind. It was a Lego block of an idea. Sometimes ideas lock together like Lego blocks and formulate a story.
EC: Why the name Beth?
JA: I was on Facebook, searching for a lost friend. I put her first name in the search column and there were a bunch of results. I wondered if some of them could be criminals, or had some hardship. The thought came to me, what if people were somehow connected by a name?
EC: The police chief in the story has tunnel vision?
JA: He had an emotional connection to this family. He accused the dad of harming his wife, Mariah’s mother. People knew the marriage was in trouble, that they had been quarreling, and then she vanishes. Mariah was intent on proving to the police that there was new evidence that would prove her dad innocent. She wants “to seek the pattern of order in chaos.” I wanted to heighten the stakes by showing that the police, even with the incredible capable investigative abilities, did not consider other possibilities. We as humans are trying to organize what is around us.
EC: There is a scene where a girl aims a smartphone at Mariah. I call these people “a smart phone buttinsky.” Please explain
JA: Being out and about with teenagers I realized they are often on their phones. It seems everyone can be a portable witness. Sometimes it is for the good when criminal behavior is captured. But other times it is weird, intrusive, and abusive. Why are they doing that instead of helping the person? In the moment, I do not understand the urge to video rather than the urge to help.
EC: Describe Mariah?
JA: She is dealing with a lot as a young twentyish old. Mariah must come to terms that the world she knows no longer exists. I would say she is determined, fearless, stubborn, impulsive, with some anger issues. She is probably one of the most complicated characters I have ever written. I sympathized with her because she had to deal with so much and everything in her life went to hell. She has put everything on hold until she finds a resolution about her mom and cannot move forward until she finds answers. She is loyal and loves both her parents.
EC: Grief is explored?
JA: Mariah thought she saw her mom in the mall. Grief can play tricks on the mind. I want readers to look at this family and how they were grieving. Everyone builds their own memories of what happened and their roles in it. When lightning burned down my house I had some vivid memories of those four to five hours, but also stretches of time that got scrambled.
EC: I am so sorry you lost your house to nature?
JA: A massive lightning bolt struck my house when we were home. It actually hit a bedroom next to where my two sons and their cousin were watching television. We were all out of the house in 2 to 3 minutes. Thankfully we are better now and have moved back.
EC: What is the theme?
JA: We never know whom another person is including ourselves. There is always another side we do not know about. We know the image we hold of a person, but can never know everything about them. Some days we do not even know everything about ourselves. We have these masks on concealing how we feel about things and will not say our thoughts out loud.
EC: You have a thought in the book, “what would you do to protect someone you love?”
JA: For me personally, what wouldn’t I do? Most people under normal circumstances would not kill or hurt another person. The idea is repellent to them. But to save a loved one, they could do it. Any of us would possibly kill to protect someone we love.
EC: A heads up about your next book?
JA: It is about a family that comes undone after someone discovers a murder victim. A mom, dad, and two teenage children must figure out what happened. It is another domestic suburban thriller.
EC: Did you retire Sam Capra?
JA: No. I am planning out what the next Sam novel will be. He will definitely be back. In the next one, we will jump a few years having him more established and his son older. I really miss writing him now and realize that there is interest in him because I get asked every week “when is the next Sam book?”
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