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Posts Tagged ‘disappearance’

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This was another audiobook to keep me company while running. It is only this year that I have really got into audiobooks and I have discovered a curious thing – even if I don’t particularly like an audiobook, somehow it seems to keep my attention, in a way that a physical book which I wasn’t enjoying, would not be able to do. This book kind of falls into that category.

The story is told from multiple points of view, but it kind of feels like Ella Longfield’s story, as hers is the only point of view narrated in the first person. Ella is on a train journey when she overhears two young men chatting up two girls. When it becomes apparent that the two men have just been released from prison, Ella becomes alarmed and considers intervening but decides not to. However, the next morning one of the girls, Anna Ballard, has gone missing and Ella feels guilty that she did not step in.

Cut to a year later – Anna has still not been found, and Ella is full of guilt. She starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous sender, which tell her that she is being watched. Meantime, the investigation into Anna’s disappearance rumbles on, with chapters told by Ella herself (‘The Witness), Anna’s father (‘The Father’), Anna’s friend Sarah who was with her on the train (‘The Sister’) and Matt, a private detective who Ella employs to find out who is sending the postcards (‘The Private Detective’). There are also very occasional chapters narrated by ‘Watcher’ whose identity for obvious reasons, is not revealed. It soon becomes obvious that everyone connected to Anna has secrets and throughout the story it seems that any one of them could be guilty.

So far, so interesting. The premise is great – what would you have done? Would you have intervened? Would you have left well alone? Would you feel guilty in Ella’s position? And of course there is the whodunnit angle…who is sending the postcards? And what really happened to Anna?

So – there was plenty about this book that kept me listening. However, there were also things that annoyed me. Ella was not a particularly interesting narrator or main character. Can I go so far as to call her dull? (Yes, is the answer.) And considering that actually, she didn’t do anything wrong, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt, almost making the case all about her. I didn’t mind the multiple points of view that narrated the different chapters, and in fact I did particularly like Matt the private detective, albeit a lot of his personal story (his wife had a baby and he learns to adjust to fatherhood) was irrelevant. However, each chapter had a cliffhanger which was obviously a ploy to keep the reader/listener interested, but just ended up being a bit annoying and felt contrived.

The other problem was the ending. Okay, so I didn’t guess who the culprit was, but the things is that I don’t believe anyone guessed, because there was absolutely nothing – no clues, no hints – given earlier on. It seems slightly unfair to keep readers guessing and then to spring a culprit on them out of left-field. The best mysteries to me are when you are surprised by the identity of the culprit but then realise that the clues were there all along.

Overall, I would say that if, like me, you are listening to this in an effort to distract you from something else, it does the trick, but otherwise I probably would not recommend it. Fans of psychological thrillers or whodunnits can find similar stories done much better.

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May 1983 – 14 year old Cynthia Bigge wakes up the morning after an almighty row with her father, and discovers that her entire family – her mother, father and brother have disappeared.  The mystery is never solved, and for 25 years, Cynthia has to live with not knowing what happened to them.  Are they dead? Alive?  Did they just choose to leave her, or did some other fate befall them?

2008 – Cynthia appears in one of those hokey true-crime television shows, which revisits the mystery of her family’s disappearance, and soon afterwards, strange things start happening – a phone call from someone saying that they know where her family are; her father’s old hat suddenly appearing in their house, and other events.  Is someone playing cruel games with Cynthia, or is they mystery finally about to be solved?

Apart from the very brief prologue describing the night of the disappearance from Cynthia’s point of view, the rest of the story is narrated by her husband, a high school English teacher named Terry.  Cynthia and Terry have a more-or-less happy marriage, and an eight year old daughter named Grace, but the mystery of what happened to her parents and brother has haunted Cynthia for years, to the extent that when odd events occur, Terry questions Cynthia’s sanity.

If you are a fan of thrillers/whodunnits, then I’d recommend this story.  Sometimes the writing is a bit cliched, and I did figure out the ending before the big reveal, but there was plenty here that kept me entertained.  The writing flowed well, and I read huge chunks at a time, because I was eager to find out what happened (and if my guesses were correct).  The plot sometimes veered close to being ludicrous, but I just went with it, and enjoyed it anyway.  As with most books in this genre, I would not read it again, because it’s more about the destination rather than the journey, so once you know who ‘dunnit’ there’s not much point in re-reading.  Terry was a decent enough narrator, although not a particularly interesting character (to me anyway), but this book is definitely more plot driven than character driven, so the fact that he did not make a huge impression on me did not really matter.

All in all, it’s not brilliant, but it’s an enjoyable diversion and I’d read more by Linwood Barclay.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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A young Dutch couple named Rex and Saskia are on holiday in France, when they stop at a service station.  Saskia goes inside to buy some cold drinks, and disappears, never to be seen again.  Eight years later, Rex is still haunted by memories of Saskia, and the mystery behind her disappearance, and he launches a campaign in the French press, to see if he can unearth the truth.  He then meets a man who can answer all of his questions – but how much does he want to learn the truth?

This was such an unusual book.  It’s very short (115 pages), but but very gripping. There is a plot device which is rare in psychological mysteries – halfway through the book, the reader finds out exactly what happened to Saskia, and who is responsible for her disappearance.  This part of the story is told in detail, explaining about the life of the protaganist and what led him to the actions he committed.  A genuinely creepy psychopath emerges from the pages – a man without emotion, who seems to plan his life in a logical and cold hearted way.

The writing is very spare, with no unnecessary words, and had a ‘detached’ quality to it.  It is hard to feel much empathy for Rex – indeed he comes over as a somewhat unfeeling man, in his attitudes towards women especially – but the driving force behind the story is the reader’s desire to learn Saskia’s fate, and then the witnessing of Rex learning the same thing.  Rex has been driven almost to the point of madness by his not knowing, but he also seems apathetic about his own life, with no real enjoyment in anything anymore.

A genuine mystery then, but one where the mystery is how far one man will go to have his questions answered, when the reader already knows the answers.  Unusual and intriguing, it made me want to seek out more work by this author.

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