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I Am Missing

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best thriller

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What constitutes a thriller? I suppose that could be one of those ‘how long is a piece of string questions’. I would hope that any crime novel worth its salt would be ‘thrilling’ in some shape or form, but for the sake of clarity, I’m excluding books which rely heavily for their impact on police investigations, or are given added ambience by an historical setting. So, what did I enjoy? Harlan Coben always delivers, and his renegade policeman Napoleon ‘Nap’ Dumas left official procedural behind and certainly did the business in Don’t Let Go. Domestic Noir has become a very fruitful field for many authors and publishers, and I enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes by Simon Lelic in The House.

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Another writer who kept one or two brilliant tricks up his sleeve was Tim Weaver when he gave us another mystery for David Raker to solve in I Am Missing. Michael Robotham played the ‘unreliable narrator’ trick when he challenged us to decide just which of the expectant mums was telling the truth in The Secrets She Keeps, while Karen Perry dangled several versions of the truth in front of us in a brilliant tale about memory, old friendships and illusion in Can You Keep A Secret? 

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unleashed1So, who thrilled me the most? First across the line by a nose, in a very competitive field, was Unleashed, by Peter Laws. Laws sends his alter ego, Professor Matt Hunter, to the dull south London suburb of Menham to investigate a Hieronymus Bosch-like scene at a primary school concert, where the highlight of the evening is the music teacher being found dead in a cupboard full of recorders, plastic tambourines and chime bars – with her throat ripped out, apparently by her own pet dog. Hunter’s investigations lead him to to 29 Barley Street, where a young girl was found hanging from a beam in her bedroom. The soul of Holly Watson, however, is not at rest, and her presence still lingers in the claustrophobic gloom of her home. Occasionally – and unashamedly – playing to the gallery, and using every colour on his palette, Laws paints a picture that disquiets us. He makes us think to ourselves, “This is nonsense, but …..” The ‘but’ is his key weapon. He evokes old fears, conjure up ancient and deep-rooted uncertainties – and makes us glad that Unleashed is only a book.

My verdict?

“Laws takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.”

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I AM MISSING … Between the covers.

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David Raker finds people. Mostly these people are lost in physical form: sometimes he finds them alive but sometimes dead, and in the seven Raker novels which preceded I Am Missing, author Tim Weaver has composed variations on this theme. Now, however, Raker’s latest client is very visible and tangible, if a little careworn. Richard Kite has a big problem. He has no idea who he is or who he was. Found lying on the shingle shore near Southampton Water, bruised, battered and barely conscious, he was briefly the hot property of the tabloid press, starring as a nine day wonder before the media and their public grew bored of the tale and moved on to fresh sensations.

IAM coverRaker agrees to take on the case on a more-or-less pro bono basis. Whatever and whoever Richard Kite once was, he has not brought wealth of any kind with him into his new life. Raker’s initial trip south to meet Kite is less than fruitful. Kite only recalls two shadowy images from his past; one is that he is looking out across a lonely beach to a grey expanse of water; is it the sea, perhaps, or a river? The other image is just as enigmatic; Kite sees a television screen, and on it is a graphic of a broadcasting pylon emitting what seems to be a children’s programme.

Raker is a different kind of investigator. His background is not security, law enforcement or military. His previous career was in journalism, and this means that his cases are rarely settled by force of arms or fisticuffs. Instead, he has a sharp eye for inconsistencies in statements and accounts from the people he deals with, and he can usually spot a lie or an evasion at a hundred paces. When he discovers that Kite has been receiving therapy from a distinguished psychotherapist, he makes an appointment to see her and, within just a few minutes of the interview starting, he senses that she is not telling him everything she knows.

Tim Weaver_webMeanwhile, Weaver (right) gives us what seems to be a parallel but unconnected narrative. Two girls, sister and step sister, apparently living in a remote moorland community, perhaps in the north of England, have taken to sneaking out of their house after dark, and climbing up the hill onto the moors, where they have constructed an imaginary and malevolent presence out there in the wind and rain-swept darkness. Malevolent it certainly seems to be, but is it just a figment of the girls’ lurid imaginings?

At this point, with Raker’s investigation about as productive as trying to extract blood from a stone, I will call a halt to the plot synopsis. This is because Weaver has made a beautifully designed surprise for us. It was a shift that I never saw coming, and it is one which makes the final third of the book totally compelling. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that we get the almost de rigeur exploration of a part of underground London that has been hidden, neglected and forgotten but, having given us this, Weaver makes certain we are all safely seated expecting one thing, before using his smoke and mirrors to reveal something else altogether.

You can check buying choices by clicking the link below.

I AM MISSING

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