The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper
In a picture-perfect house in 1959, model housewife Joyce Haney goes to the mall for some shopping, returns home, and then vanishes, leaving behind nothing except a bloodstain on the kitchen floor, a screaming baby, and a terrified young daughter.
Detective Mick Blanke is new to the region, missing his old hood of Brooklyn and generally unimpressed with how the investigation is going – not least the fact that Ruby Wright, Joyce’s African-American housemaid and the first witness on the scene, was immediately arrested by police. Mick’s investigation keeps running into dead ends: everyone in Joyce’s life is so determined to uphold the pristine image of the perfect nuclear family and white picket fences, they’re unwilling to discuss anything improper – like the reasons somebody might go missing.
Ruby doesn’t want to get involved with police – she’s already dealing with the personal fallout of her mother’s death and the simmering anger of her community as they are continually let down by everyone in power. But she wants to know the truth of what happened to Joyce. She also knows more than anyone else what happens behind closed doors in this neighbourhood. Between her and Mick, they just might be able to figure out what happened to an immaculate young White wife in this town where everybody’s hiding misery they’ll paint freshly over every year just for show.
This book is suffused with the heat of a Californian summer and the oppressive nature of the fifties – the misogyny, racism, upheaval and violence of it all – and it rings true to the time and place with every single enthralling page.