😀 😀 😀
When two children are abducted, at first it’s hoped that they’ve been kidnapped for ransom. But the crime is similar to another that was committed fifteen years earlier, resulting in the murder of a child and the imprisonment of a local priest. Now the police have to consider if the earlier investigation got the wrong man, and if the pattern repeats, they know that both little girls will be dead by Christmas.
There are bits of this book that are great and then there’s the rest which is… not so great. It gets off to an incredibly slow start. By a third of the way through there’s been no real investigation of any kind – just a ton of stuff about various child killings and a relentless concentration on the grief of all the parents and siblings of the victims. It manages the feat of being voyeuristic, rather tasteless and dull at the same time. Sub-plots abound but never actually go anywhere – I’m sure there’s something in there about corrupt politicians, the Mafia and truth-tests, but it’s so badly done, I had no idea what was going on with it or what purpose it served, except to pad the book out unnecessarily. I found it unlikely that the police would use the abduction of two young children as an excuse to mentally torture the mother of one of them to get information on corruption in local politics. But, assuming this to be the case, it makes it impossible for the reader to like the investigators, surely, and yet I think on the whole we’re supposed to.
The characterisation is fine, but every single character has a secret or a problem. Too much, too much! The FBI man who stalks his ex-girlfriend. The priest who’s struggling with his faith. The profiler who knows about dozens of unsolved child murders that no-one else ever seems to have heard of, and has a mysterious past of her own which is hinted at every time we meet her. The police officer haunted by the memory of the murder of his own twin sister (would he really be allowed on the case once a connection had been made between the two crimes? I doubt it). The headmaster who ‘buys’ gifted children for his school. The weak and pathetic fathers who can’t cope and the wise, strong mothers who can – I think Ms O’Connell’s feminist petticoat is showing. The tortured psychiatrist who everyone believes knows who is doing the killings, but won’t tell because it’s against his moral code – really? Too much!
But the book finally picks up when it goes to the missing girls – Gwen and Sadie. O’Connell’s characterisation of the children is excellent, although they feel two or three years older than the ten-year-olds they’re supposed to be. Sadie has always been the leader, with a streak of imaginative wickedness that leads her to play cruel tricks on people, such as pretending she is dead. But now her imagination is a useful tool in trying to find a way out of their desperate situation. Gwen is an interesting combination of weakness and strength – unlike Sadie, she knows her own limitations and gradually begins to put the brakes on Sadie’s wilder schemes. The power balance within their relationship shifts over the course of the book and this is done very well and believably. And at this stage of the book, the police are finally doing some proper investigatory work, so that side of it improves too. This whole central section is full of tension, even to the level of psychological horror at points, and very well written. And the pages fly as the girls’ story heads frantically to its thrillerish climax…
…which it’s important not to think too much about, or you might just notice that it’s silly. The thing is it doesn’t look silly at the time so it works brilliantly. But unfortunately the explanations that come after the climax stretch credulity way past breaking point – for this reader at least. It’s hard to say why without spoilers, but it’s not so much the twists that kill the credibility, but the fact that they make a nonsense of the sequence of earlier events. In fact, had one or two twists been left out this would have been a much better book. The shock value wears off quickly in the face of the tidying up O’Connell does at the end, giving too much time for the reader to recognise the problems they cause.
So, flawed and over complicated, but still a page-turner once past the slow start and worth reading for the excellent sections with Gwen and Sadie.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Headline.