“Laura’s mother is missing. A family’s secret.
The authorities place three-year-old Laura into foster care.
Fifteen years later, a family history project motivates her to search for her true identity. She must find her lost parents to learn the truth about the past.
She grew up feeling vulnerable, distressed and abandoned. She constantly dreamed about her mother and regardless of the reasons she left, Laura wants to forgive her.
Returning to the village and house where she was born, Laura meets her relatives who are supportive and welcome her with open arms. However, when she learns of a tragic event and uncovers some dark, family secrets people become alarmed. They consider murder to conceal the “skeletons in the cupboard”.
Now that her life is in danger, will she continue to search for the truth?
A gripping journey through an intrigue of secrets, lies, deception and jealousy.
With a heart-breaking final twist.”
The basic premise and plot of Missing are promising. The set up is a classic English village ‘whodunnit’ in the style of Agatha Christie: an unsolved murder mystery in a small, insular community; the tangled history and dark secrets of a family, and a cast of suspicious characters with murky motives. All the ingredients and tropes are there and in place, which makes it all the more frustrating that the execution fails to live up to the premise.
I am normally quite lenient about grammar and punctuation errors, especially with self-published works, where the author may not have the same support of a traditionally published writer, but Missing is so littered with errors that I wouldn’t be giving an honest review if I didn’t mention them. Almost every page suffers from missing or misused punctuation – omitted question marks are a particular problem, missing full-stops and commas, or commas where they are not needed. There are several spelling errors (confine instead of confide, cope instead of coop) and problems with mixing past and present tense within the same paragraph. These errors make it difficult to read – just as you get drawn in, an error jumps out and takes you out the story. It feels like it needs a good edit and proof-read pass.
There are issues with time frames throughout – the story is set in 1995, while a past murder occurs in 1980. A number of inconsistencies crop up. The main character is 3 years old at the time of the initial murder, but also seems to have been swimming in a pool and clambering about a waterfall – not great parenting! The police in 1980 eliminate suspects through DNA testing – but DNA testing wasn’t performed until at least the mid-1980s. In 1995, one character has a mobile phone, despite very few people having mobile phones until the late 1990s (and what’s more, he never needs his mobile phone, so why mention it at all?)
The pace feels slow at times with many scenes repeated over and over again – Scott spends almost the entire book at hospital looking after his ill wife, then popping back to his B&B for a meal and then immediately going back to the hospital – over and over again. Almost everyone tells Laura to leave the town, over and over again. Meanwhile, Scott lets Laura stay as a guest, where she feels obliged to buy his food, cook meals for him and clean his house for him (why would any guest do this?). It emerges that they are actually related – uncle and niece – but they never actually acknowledge this to each other.
This is another problem – there are a lot of character inconsistencies. As an example take Old Charlie – he doesn’t like Laura, he doesn’t want her around. He spends 3/4 of the novel telling her to leave and avoiding her. Then Laura goes to visit him and within half a page he has invited her into his house for tea and starts chatting to her quite happily. It makes no sense. Or how about a paragraph about Scott and his wife. He tells us she has been in hospital for six months being treated for cancer, then in the next line says he is not prepared for her sudden death. How much warning does he need here?!
The main stumbling block though is the sheer amount of characters in the book, and their relation to each other. There are so many aunts, great-aunts, uncles, great-uncles, grandparents, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins and second cousins that it is impossible to keep track of who is who and who did what, to who and when. A lot of characters also appear a couple of times then disappear without serving much purpose. By the middle of the book it has all become a bit of a muddle and I was feeling quite lost. Fortunately by the end the conclusion to the mystery just about made sense and hung together, so it was worth wading through the confusion to get to the end.
Summary: A frustrating read – there’s a decent, gripping story in there somewhere, but it’s buried in inconsistencies, a convoluted plot, too many characters and far too many punctuation, grammar and spelling errors. A little bit more care and attention and it could be a decent addition to the genre.
Similar To: Agatha Christie; Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels; Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novel (Midsomer Murders on TV)
You can learn more about author James McEwan, and his writing, on his blog:
‘Missing’ is available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback:
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