Fifteen year old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, no one saw him leave that night and six months on they have no idea if he is dead or alive, all they know is that there has been no sight of him since he disappeared.
C.L. Taylor’s writing takes us into the Wilkinson household in the aftermath of the disappearance and with unnerving skill sums up the multitude of emotions that most of us don’t even want to imagine. We see this mainly through the eyes of Claire as she begins to suffer amnesic episodes bought on by the trauma of losing her youngest son. Through this medium we see how the other members of the household are faring; Mark his father who had an argument with Billy because of his persistent graffiti habit, his brother Jake who has lost his work-ethic and Jake’s girlfriend Kira who is living with them. With each member of the household hiding something, are any of those secrets the key to where Billy is?
Inserted between the narrative are messages between two unknown characters, these are of a disturbing nature but what connection do they have to the mystery of where Billy went and why? The tension mounts as the messages become darker, this aspect really got under my skin in a way that this device rarely does as I pondered their meaning and who they came from. I really thought I had the answer of who was writing one side of these at least, but I was totally off track!
The success of this author’s books is down to characterisation. I felt I knew Claire, she came across as level-headed but understandably grief-stricken but one thing kept her going, she believed that Billy was alive. At the start of the book her and Mark attend a second televised appeal for information, she goes out looking for Billy in and around Bristol to the places he tagged with his graffiti, she visits his school, talks to his friend and repeats. She even keeps her patience with her mother who recommends psychics to find Billy. She is a kind and good woman who loves her children, cares for Kira whose own family life was in chaos and has a close friend who mercifully treats her as normal thereby giving her a brief respite from the overwhelming sympathy which alternates with barbed comments that the family must have something to hide – a fifteen year old boy doesn’t vanish into thin air.
The secondary characters are sufficiently well-drawn to also come across as real people, particularly Mark’s reaction to his son’s disappearance which is to strive to keep going at work and to ignore the whispers about his possible involvement. Kira’s shyness, her inability to interact with Claire in any meaningful way was also authentic, after all most adults would struggle to cope, let alone a student who has recently left home due to problems.
The icing on the cake is the fabulous plotting which allows the tension to build incrementally from the very beginning to the superb dénouement.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to HarperCollins UK who gave me a copy of this book before publication today, 7 April 2016. This review is my thank you to them and the author for such a fantastic read.
C.L. Taylor has written two other psychological thrillers; The Accident and The Lie, both superb but this one just had the edge for me – if you enjoy the exploration of the mind and you haven’t read any of these, you are in for a real treat!