Let me start by saying this is a strange book. It’s a thriller, of sorts; one that uses a certain amount of suspense and anticipation to carry the story along, but it won’t overexcite the reader. I read it over the course of a few days, and found myself expecting a little more shock or horror than was on offer.
The story is set in London. Julian and Annie had only just announced their engagement when Annie’s twelve year old son, Dan, mysteriously fails to come home from school one day. He vanishes without trace and despite an exhaustive police investigation he is never found. Julian and Dan never got on and we are led to suspect that Dan was envious of him taking the place of his father, who died of leukaemia when he was a young boy, and maybe, just maybe, this was the reason why Dan ran away.
Three years later there is still no trace of Dan but Annie refuses to give up hope that somewhere her son is alive and will one day return home. Julian is less enthusiastic and is fed up with keeping their lives on hold. One day, he says to her:
“Look Annie, it’s been three years now. Dan is not coming back. We can’t go on living like this. We need to draw a line under things. We need to move on with our lives…” (or words to that effect).
Annie doesn’t take kindly to Julian’s insensitivity and ends their relationship. Then… wait for this… one day, Annie receives a most unexpected telephone call from a social worker in Scotland, saying that Dan has been found in a refuge but that he suffers from amnesia. And then, rather bizarrely, Annie agrees for him to be put him on an overnight train from Glasgow to King’s Cross and next morning saunters off to collect him from the station!!!!!!
So Dan has returned. He is now 15 – and has grown into a handsome young man with his blond hair and fair skin. He is taller and his voice is broken. Girls eye him up. You can sense his testosterone. Did he have blue eyes before he went missing but returned with brown eyes? Nobody notices or cares. He is back and that’s all that matters – to Annie at least. His return though is as mysterious as his vanishing – and it is here that the real mystery begins to emerge but is never quite solved.
Two main weaknesses stand out for me in this novel. The first one is the narrator. It is written from the viewpoint of Julian – who is American. I imagined his Yankee drawl throughout the story. He does not present as being likeable or interesting. In fact, he’s quite anodyne. To me, he spoils the story because his viewpoint narrows the telling of the story which could have been far more expansive and expressive if it was told from Annie’s viewpoint, as Dan’s mother.
Another thing that diminished the opportunity for this to be an excellent novel was that Dan’s return could have been portrayed in a more powerful and tense manner. It could have brought great action and added suspense to the story but it didn’t. I wanted to discover more about Dan’s character, despite his memory loss. I wanted him to be rebellious, not placid. I wanted him to engross me, not disinterest me. I wanted him to have me sitting at the end of my seat rather than laboriously languishing and hoping against all odds that something terrifying would happen, which in the end never did. As I said, Julian failed, in my opinion, as narrator and in doing so ruined the chances of this being a much more creative and well told story rather than for it remaining, in the main, mediocre. In view of these criticisms, I am only awarding it three stars out of five, whilst acknowledging that I am probably being a little generous with my marking. To be extra blunt, I am surprised that this book was published by a leading publisher (Simon & Schuster). Frankly, I think it could have done with at least one further rewrite before being deemed ready for publication.
© Declan Henry