Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"The Missing" by Jane Casey

Sarah Finch is a teacher haunted by the disappearance of her brother Charlie some sixteen years ago. No trace of him was ever found. The event had a drastic effect on her family, with her father eventually moving out and her mother refusing to move on with her life, to the point where her daughter stopped existing for her. Nevertheless, Sarah continues to live with her selfish, ungrateful alcholic mother in a state of suspended misery.

When her twelve-year-old student Jenny Shepherd goes missing, Sarah is the one who discovers the body. Chief Inspector Vickers and Detective Sergeant Andy Blake are at first grateful for her help in the investigation, but as she continually inserts herself into the proceedings, they begin to get suspicious. As for Sarah, she gets the feeling she is being watched. She has an over-eager colleague romantically pursuing her, and a pesky reporter close to uncovering her history. Her romance with Blake further complicates matters.

An okay mystery is wrapped up in this overlong tale. I quickly found myself tiring of Sarah's character. She's another one of those timid, supposedly dowdy, young women completely unaware that all the men around her are completely enamoured with her, and that she is actually a bit of a bombshell. Please. Her devotion to her (frankly) selfish bitch of a mother is explored and explained late in the novel, but it hardly justifies slogging through the constant misery her mother puts her through. Flashbacks to the family's life after the disappearance are effective at first, but soon grow tiresome. Basically, Casey makes the point that the disappearance has had a devastating impact on the family and then just keeps on drawing and drawing it out.

Character actions and motivations are also a bit iffy. The romance between Sarah and Blake in particular is handled in a very cliched manner. Sarah's completely out of left field decision to head over to his house and sleep with him is totally out of character and pretty laughable. It seems to be there for the express purpose of causing tension down the track, not because it was the natural progression of their relationship. And the behaviour of Geoff, her colleague, is clearly stalker-ish and bordering on sexual harrassment, yet she just grins and bears it. As mentioned before, her mother is painted as such a self-absorbed, bitter misery-guts, it's never really clear why Sarah also puts up with this, even despite the last-minute revelation regarding their relationship.

It all wraps up in an okay showdown with the real killer, but the revelation of their identity is pretty arbitrary. "The Missing" aims to be a psychological thriller more than a crime novel, and the lack of reliance on forensic procedure is refreshing, but for me it didn't quite strike home. The mystery was too thin and the characters too hard to relate to.

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