In Gone, Leona Deakin’s debut thriller, we meet Dr Augusta Bloom, a psychologist, and her business partner Marcus Jameson. They have established an investigation agency which offers the selling points of Bloom’s skills in understanding the human psyche and Jameson’s rather darker arts, developed during his time working for a shadowy government intelligence unit. The business is doing making headway, but not so much so that Bloom doesn’t ask questions when Jameson asks her to work pro bono on a family-related issue.
Jameson’s sister Claire has, for some time, fulfilled a mixed role of aunt, mother and babysitter to a teenage girl called Jane. Jane’s mother Lana, is a single mum, loving but chaotic, perhaps suffering from PTSD after several tours in conflict zones when she was a soldier in the army. Now she has disappeared, leaving Jane with no money for food or rent. Knowing of her mum’s fragile mental state. Jane was not initially alarmed, but when she began to investigate, after receiving no help from the police, she made several disturbing discoveries. Lana disappeared on her birthday. Immediately before her disappearance she had received a mysterious card inviting her to play a game. The beautifully presented card bore the words, elegantly embossed in silver on cream:
“Happy first birthday.
Your gift is the game.
Dare to play?”
Jane has discovered, via the internet, that her mum is not the only person to have vanished from the face of the earth, having been sent the same invitation. Dismissed by the police, her only way forward is to ask for expert help.
Bloom’s initial reluctance to become involved softens, as she remembers two daunting experiences with psychopaths in her own recent history. One ended tragically, but the other – involving a clever and manipulative teenager called Seraphine – has remained lodged in her memory for different reasons.
Leona Deakin’s own experience and training in psychology gives this novel a framework of authenticity to which the more fanciful parts of the narrative can cling. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Deakin has presented a neat and convincing conjuring trick: the missing are no longer the victims – they are the ones to be feared; those left behind have become the prey. The relationship between Bloom and Jameson is intriguing. It reminded me of the unresolved tension and undeclared love between Val McDermid’s doomed lovers Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. We are left to decide for ourselves what Augusta Bloom looks like; Deakin (right) suggests that she might be rather dowdy, an academic in flat shoes. She is certainly razor sharp mentally, however, and she plays a devastating human chess game with the organisation behind the birthday card disappearances.
Gone is published by Black Swan, part of the Penguin group. It came out as a Kindle in August this year, and will be available as a paperback on 12th December.