Happiness Falls is proof that a thriller doesn’t have to feature private eyes, secret agents, ticking time bombs and exotic locales to keep the reader spellbound. Angie Kim’s suspenseful second novel after Miracle Creek follows a family that lives in a quiet and even bucolic neighborhood near Washington, D.C. They try to stay out of trouble. But trouble comes to them.
The mom, Hannah, is Korean American and an academic. She’s married to Adam, who’s white and a stay-at-home dad. His last name is Parson, hers is Park, and their three kids bear a portmanteau of the two: Parkson. Mia and John, 20 years old, are fraternal twins. The youngest child, 14-year-old Eugene, is diagnosed with autism and mosaic Angelman syndrome (AS), “which means he can’t talk, has motor difficulties, and . . . has an unusually happy demeanor with frequent smiles and laughter.” One day, Eugene comes home upset, pushes his sister out of the way and runs up to his room, where he jumps and vocalizes for hours. Later, Mia finds blood beneath his fingernails. Their dad, who took Eugene to the park that day, is nowhere to be found.
At first the Parksons believe that Adam got lost, and he’ll return. But as the hours drag on and he doesn’t show up, analytical Mia goes into Sherlock mode. (Or Vulcan mode—the Parksons are huge Trekkies.) As narrator, Mia devotes pages to possible scenarios, and adds footnotes to nearly every chapter. The family realizes that waiting 48 hours before calling the police about a missing person is a dangerous myth, and soon the cops are involved. The lead officer’s name is, of course, Janus. On the one hand, she wants to help the Parksons. On the other hand, she’s all but sure that Eugene killed his father and can’t wait to clap the traumatized boy in handcuffs.
Calling a book unputdownable is a cliche, but it has been a while since this reviewer fought off sleep just so she could read one or two more pages. Did Eugene actually kill his father? Why? Is he as noncommunicative as everyone thinks he is? Not only will these and other questions swirl around your brain, but you’ll also come to love the Parksons, especially tetchy, brilliant Mia. You love them for the fierceness of their love for each other, and for their determination, which becomes your own, to get to the bottom of this.