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The Blurb:

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

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My thoughts:

First, let me warn anyone who is thinking of reading this, that the blurb on the back cover – as above – is somewhat misleading. Second – I’m in two minds about this one. I definitely think Fiona Barton can write, and the characters were all well drawn and fleshed out.

There are two timelines – 2010, which for the purposes of this novel is the present day, and 2006, which is when the little girl that Glen Taylor was accused of abducting, disappeared. The vast majority of it actually takes place in 2006, with the 2010 storyline concentrating on a journalist called Kate who wants to get Jean’s story.

The chapters are told from separate points of view – ‘The Widow’ – Jean Taylor; ‘The Reporter’ – Kate; ‘The Detective’ – Bob Sparkes who was in charge of the original investigation and is still haunted by the matter years later; and ‘The Mother’ – Dawn, the mother of the abducted child. I liked Bob and I quite liked Kate, but Jean and Dawn both left me cold.

At times the book was very suspenseful, but at times it did drag slightly as there seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth, and did-he/didn’t-he, with the same ground being trodden over. But despite that, I did quite enjoy this book and would almost certainly read more by Fiona Barton. It doesn’t have the twists and turns of a book like Gone Girl, but for my money it’s better written than Gone Girl (and as with every other psychological thriller which has been released since that book, this one has been compared to it – ignore the comparisons, it’s totally different).

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Year of first publication: 2016

Genre: Psychological drama

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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In this fourth instalment of the Miss Fisher series, Phryne is driving in her car when her windscreen is shot out. When she gets out of the car, she sees a young man who was also shot and who dies in her arms. Outraged, Phryne determines to find the guilty parties. However, she also takes on another case, that of missing schoolgirl Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, and Miss Fisher’s two adopted daughters Janie and Ruth are able to help out with this matter.

The investigations take our intrepid investigator – along with her friend and maid Dot, and the rough but reliable Bert and Cec, not to mention her butler and chef Mr and Mrs Butler, into the dark world of anarchists and psychics, and as usual there is danger everywhere.

Lots of humour along the way of course, and Phryne naturally finds time to indulge in a little dalliance with a mysterious man named Peter Smith. Anyone who has read any of the series will be familiar with the style and will know what to expect from Phryne. I have to say that while the books are thoroughly enjoyable, I don’t think that they are actually really well written and on this occasion, the adaptation is better than the book. No Jack Robinson in this story, which is a shame, but we do get to meet Hugh Collins, who is a regular in the TV show.

Overall for an undemanding and quick read, this fits the bill.

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December 31 1999.  Ten year old Amy Archer goes missing, and is presumed dead.  Her body isn’t found, and ten years later, her mother Beth is still struggling to cope with her grief.  On December 31 2009, there is a knock at her door, and a young woman claims to know where Amy is.  Beth is then introduced to a girl who looks exactly like her daughter, and knows things that only Amy could have known.  But this girl is only ten years old.  As Beth tries to understand the truth behind ‘Amy’s’ sudden reappearance, her enquiries take her down dark paths and reveal secrets long hidden.

I am in two minds about this book.  I think the premise is interesting – I don’t personally believe in reincarnation, psychics or mediums, all of which are discussed in this book, but I don’t think that you need to to invest in the story.  The narrative moved fast, and was interesting enough to keep me reading for hours, but the main issue for me was that I did not like any of the characters.  Not Beth, not Libby (the young woman who knocks on her door) and not even Amy/Esme, the young girl who claims to be Beth’s daughter reincarnated.  The other problem was that this author really REALLY liked his imagery and symbolism, and initially that annoyed me a little.  However, as I got further into the book, I must have got used to his way of writing, because I noticed it less and less.

Much has been made of the ending – I am not going to reveal anything about it here, but I personally did not mind it so much as other reviewers appear to have done.  I think if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, I would probably recommend this book, but beware that it does detail some particularly dark scenarios, which could make for uncomfortable reading.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a book I’d rave over, but I enjoyed it enough to read further books by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I thought this was a terrific book.  It is written from a child’s point of view, and has received many comparisons with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  However, while I found The Curious Incident over-rated and irritating, I thought this was really well written.

The narrator is 9 year old Harry Pickles, who talks about the summer that his nearly 5 year old brother Daniel went missing.  Harry describes the effect that the loss had on his parents, himself, and others around him, showing how people find it hard to know what to say, and demonstrating the breakdown of normal family life.  It is surprisingly funny at times, but also dreadfully sad.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain that any family in this situation must go through, but I was moved to tears reading this.

The characterisation is brilliant – Harry is a believable boy, and his struggle with life after the disappearance of Daniel, and his view of his family which is falling apart, is entirely believable and very eloquently described.  I felt that the whole family were very well drawn, and their reactions to the tragedy was extremely well described.

The writing was elegant and rather lovely, and I did not want to put the book down.

Incredibly well written, moving and touching.  A must-read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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