Reviewed by Rod McLary
The genre of crime writing is a rather crowded one. There are of course the giants of the genre – Lee Child, David Baldacci, Ian Rankin – and then in Australia we have Jane Harper, Peter Corris and Garry Disher – just to name a very few. But there is always room for another especially when their work is of quality. This book, written by an English author but set in Australia, easily falls into that category.
The plot centres on the Maguire family – Lorcan, Naiyana and their six-year-old son Dylan. Both Lorcan and Naiyana are running away; Lorcan is being pursued by rather dubious character who believes Lorcan has stolen financial data from his company when he was laid off and Naiyana – a social activist – who almost brought an international food company to its knees by campaigning against its use of an additive to a children’s food product.
The family seeks out an isolated deserted town somewhere near Kalgoorlie and sets up house in an abandoned building. Relying on an obscure legal precedent, Lorcan takes ‘adverse possession’ of the building and moves the family in.
From this point, the novel takes a rather sinister turn. Dylan – the young son – is unable to sleep at night due to a rumbling sound he alone can hear; there are also signs that there are other people in the town which is purportedly deserted. The cause of the rumbling is soon revealed and its reveal opens up another dimension to the story.
Each of the book’s early chapters set out the subsequent events as seen by one or other of Lorcan and Naiyana; but then comes a chapter named ‘Emmaline’. Emmaline Taylor is a Detective Sergeant from the Major Crimes Squad based in Perth and it soon becomes evident that she is conducting an investigation into the disappearance of the family. The timeline of the ‘Emmaline’ chapters is in the present while the timeline of the Lorcan and Naiyana chapters is in the recent past. To add further to the suspense, chapters told from the perspectives of two additional characters are introduced. How these characters fit into the story and their respective backstories are gradually revealed through the subsequent eponymous chapters.
One of the more interesting aspects of this dual story-telling is the gradual piecing together of the events leading to the family’s disappearance by Emmaline and the comparison with the events as described by the characters themselves. It is a credit to the author that this is as successful and suspenseful as it is.
As the story progresses, the timelines narrow and the two narrative strands gradually become entwined. The author cleverly builds suspense until the dénouement is reached which seems almost inevitable but nonetheless shocking and tragic.
Vanished is a crime thriller which can readily take its place in the upper echelons of the genre. Its characters – particularly Lorcan, Naiyana and Emmaline – are authentic and engaging. While there are moments when the reader may feel along with Naiyana that she has two children not just one to look after, ultimately Lorcan has his family’s best interests at heart. The minor characters such as the police officers who are assisting Emmaline – especially Rispoli – are equally engaging.
There are a couple of minor editorial quibbles though – Western Australia is referred to at least twice as West Australia, and the name of the family is incorrectly stated on the back cover.
However, those quibbles aside, this is a fine book with heart and plenty of suspense. It is well recommended.
James Delargy was born in Ireland and has lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland. He now lives in semi-rural England. His first novel 55 was published in 2019 and Vanished is his second novel.
By James Delargy
Simon and Schuster
ISBN 978 13985 0127 0