by Laura Lippmann)
My friend Harlan Coben observed that murder stories may be intriguing, but the open-ended nature of missing person stories make them even more compelling. They are real-life ghost stories, in which those who remain behind are haunted endlessly by the possible fates of those who have left them. In writing After I'm Gone, I thought a lot about how we can ever reconcile ourselves to the loss of someone vital. Even if – or especially if – it's a person that others feel we have no real claim on.
And while most missing person stories centre on those left behind, the "disappeared" have their stories to tell as well. These are often crime stories, and always love stories.
In fact, the most satisfying ones are those in which a bereft loved one becomes determined to track down the missing person, at any cost. My favourites include all these varieties and more – even a children's story of a literal disappearance that sets off a riot in Toledo, Ohio.
1. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
I read this book in galleys and loved it, but had no idea it would be THE book of 2012. And 2013. And now 2014. (It remained on the New York Times bestseller list into this year and is about to be released in paperback.) At this point, it's the standard-bearer for crime novels about missing women. Nick and Amy are the perfect couple, except, of course, they're not and her disappearance – on their fifth wedding anniversary – leads to a twisty, ingenious and wonderfully dark story.
2. The Song is You, by Megan Abbott
One of my favourite crime writers, Abbott is probably best known for her stunning novels that centre on the lives of contemporary teenage girls. But she also has written several outstanding period pieces, including this one, inspired by the 1949 disappearance of the actress Jean Spangler. The story is told from the point of view of jaded PR guy Gil "Hop" "Hopkins and, to use the parlance of its characters, it's a knock-out.
3. And She Was, by Alison Gaylin
I'm obsessed with memory, in part because I recognise how imperfect mine is. Gaylin comes at it from a different perspective in this, the first book in a terrific series. Private investigator Brenna Spector has a rare (but very real) neurological disorder, one that allows her to remember everything – but only since the moment her own sister got into a strange car, never to be seen again. That childhood tragedy comes back to haunt her when she investigates a missing persons case that appears to be related to the disappearance of a six-year-old girl – and her own life.
4. If You Were Here, by Alafair Burke
A reporter on the hunt for nothing more than a hot story is surprised when a videotape of a subway rescue shows a woman who looks remarkably like an old friend who has been missing for years. Another great take on the age-old question of how well we know anyone – even our spouses. Especially our spouses.
5. Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan
A young woman goes out one evening and never comes home. It sounds so simple, but, of course, it's anything but. O'Nan is that rare literary writer who takes crime-novel tropes and really does transform them.
6. The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta
A Rapture-like phenomenon has led to the simultaneous disappearance of millions of souls. Perrotta, who has been called the American Chekhov, is interested in what happens to those left behind in one small town, the myriad ways that people search for meaning in the wake of an incomprehensible tragedy.
7. Half Magic, by Edward Eager
I consider it my mission in life to recommend an Eager book whenever possible. In this one, three sisters and a brother in 1920s America discover a coin that grants wishes by halves. A well-read group steeped in the works of E. Nesbit – whom Eager championed and credited in every book he wrote – they eventually learn to control their magic. But when the youngest, bored at the movies, wishes not to be there, she is suddenly only half-there – she more or less disappears, causing a riot.
8. The Company You Keep, by Neil Gordon
We think of the stories of the disappeared as belonging to those who are left behind. But Gordon's 2003 allows us inside the story of a man who has gone on the run to escape his recently discovered past – as a former 60s revolutionary responsible for a man's death. Forced to leave his seven-year-old daughter in a New York hotel room, Jacob Sinai attempts, years later, to explain himself to her.
9. Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk
Noel Airman is a bit of a cad. After one of the longest seductions in fiction – really, Andrew Marvell would marvel – he jumps on an ocean liner to escape his young lover, leaving behind a rather cruel and very lengthy letter explaining why he is going somewhere she won't be able to find him. But although Marjorie has made the then-tragic error of sleeping with a man who will not marry her (the novel is set in the 1930s), she's wise enough to know that a man who is through with a young woman doesn't write a 20-page, single-typed letter saying this over and over again. Marjorie eventually gets her man. And realises she doesn't want him.
10. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
It's often overlooked, but Lolita is the confession of a man who has spent some time tracking down the mystery man who "stole" his beloved. (It should be pointed out that his beloved is his stepdaughter, whom he has been raping repeatedly.) Nabokov has immense fun dropping various clues to the identity of Lolita's new companion, even hiding his name in a twisty line of French.
• After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99).