Friday, August 9, 2013

Review of The Lost by Claire McGowan (Headline, 2013)

Paula Maguire fled to London from Ballyterrin in Northern Ireland, close to the border with the South, in her late teens.  There she trained as a forensic psychologists specialising in finding missing persons.  Twelve years after leaving, her help is requested from the local force, seeking to locate two missing teenage girls, plus her father has broken his leg.  Having fallen out with her boss yet again, Paula reluctantly accepts the secondment.  But going back to the small border town that is still carrying the scars of The Troubles is as every bit as unsettling as Paula feared.  As are the cases of the two missing girls, one the eldest daughter of a local developer and politician, the other a Traveller.  She is meant to be reviewing the files, getting a sense of the two girls, and seeing if the cases matched any previous disappearances, but headstrong and authority adverse she starts to take a more active role in the investigation, focusing on the role of a local mission group.  And when she is told to desist, she continues on regardless, throwing fresh light on the cases, but also jeopardising them and herself.  But as with most things in Ballyterrin and its recent history, nothing is quite what it seems.

There’s a lot to like about The Lost.  Paula Maguire is an engaging character with a strong personality and interesting personal history, and Ballyterrin, a fictional Irish border town, has its fill of sectarian ghosts and secrets.  The support characters are a little clichéd, but generally well realised, and the story has a nice swirl of main plot and subplots.  In particular, the contextualisation with respect to the role of the mission and the history of the treatment of young women by families and the Church is well done.  That said, the story is a little overwrought at times, veering towards melodrama (especially in the last quarter), and it’s hard to believe that Paula wouldn’t have been reined in more tightly by her police colleagues given her propensity to stray (she’s not a police officer and she’s in Northern Ireland, the most officious and rule bound police force in the UK).  Nevertheless, it’s an engaging read that I sense might be the first in a series; if so, I look forward to the next instalment.  Both Paula Maguire and the storytelling reminded me quite a bit of Elly Griffiths ‘Ruth Galloway’ series and I suspect if you like those books you’ll enjoy The Lost

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