"Without Trace" Simon Booker
This is billed as a taut, psychological thriller for fans of "Gone Girl" - for me, it definitely delivered! As with the most successful titles currently dominating the "grip lit" genre, Booker introduces us to compelling characters, frightening situations and unexpected twists. The most appealing part of this novel was that you never knew who to trust, who was acting out of revenge and who was acting out of genuine goodness. I was constantly changing my opinion of who I felt empathetic towards - who was a victim and who was dangerous - and every time I thought I had it sorted, Booker would come along and trip me up with another twist or revelation!
The novel is about Morgan, single mum and journalist, who has been campaigning for the release of Danny from his prison sentence for murdering his daughter and possibly his wife. They were childhood sweethearts and share a past from which Morgan is still recovering. For Morgan, Danny is the "one that got away" and she is convinced of his innocence. He is released after four years and with nowhere else to go, he turns to Morgan, befriending her teenage daughter who is at first unhappy about having a murderer in their house. Slowly Morgan fights to change the public's opinion of Danny, which reminds steadfast in believing him to be guilty. Then Lissa goes missing. And suddenly Morgan is no longer sure if she can trust Danny and begins to questions everything she knows about him. Has the past blinded her to the present? Is Danny capable of murder? Is he a dangerous man that has been wrongly released or does he want to find Lissa and support Morgan in her traumatic search for her daughter?
This is a real cliffhanger of a book. Each chapter leaves you dangling and forces you to read on. The chapters are short but fast- that fatal trick of being short enough to squeeze in "just one more" and then finding you are still there thirty minutes later! The writing is efficient and despite the short sentences, it is easy to visualise setting and atmosphere. They also build tension and suspense incredibly effectively. The dialogue is often also brief, but deftly used to create believable three dimensional characters.
The main characters, Danny, Morgan and Lissa, are very well crafted and I really bonded with Morgan. On one hand she is a slight victim, a little fragile and damaged from her past which is cleverly intertwined through flashbacks at various points in the novel; she is vulnerable and fallible. She could generate pity but actually she is strong and resourceful and dedicated - the way that she fights to find her daughter reveals drive and a deeper inner strength.
Danny is gloriously menacing. Yet, the backstory reveals a much more caring, sensitive, loving character and helps to explain why Morgan is so quick to defend him and let him manipulate her. There are some fantastically threatening passages where he hovers like a ghostly shadow; a creepy predatory presence. I loved the way Morgan finds "the toilet seat raised" but then realises she is alone.... Booker keeps us guessing about Danny and as I said before, just as you believe he is involved, he does something which makes you question this, reminding you of how he is struggling to adapt to life on the outside, the constant prejudice everywhere he goes as he also tries to overcome the bullying he endured in prison.
Booker uses telephone conversations between Morgan and Danny to heighten the tension. As with the dialogue, they are used to make the characters feel more exposed and confused. The conflict explored in the relationship between Danny and Morgan is interesting. How do you deal with someone who has been the biggest part of your childhood, a knight in shining armour, a wronged victim......but then someone who has changed and whose behaviour implies that actually they could be more dangerous than you think.
No one is this book is what they seem. The police officers working on the case and the other journalist are equally deceptive and manipulative in their behaviour. All have motives and hidden agendas. Morgan's true strength of character is tested as she battles to identify who she can depend on and who can help her to save Lissa. It is utterly impossible to guess the ending of this captivating, white knuckle ride of a story!
The setting is Dungeness beach and the marshes - already stirring up images of Dicken's "Great Expectations" and a place perfect for murderers and a bleak, unfriendly landscape. Some of the events, observations and dialogue reminded me of the film "Sleeping with the Enemy" which still has the power to send shivers down my spine!
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a thrilling, exciting read with a genuine, cliche-busting protagonist. If you like to be kept guessing and continuously challenged, you will love this. If you like a fast paced, well written novel full of believable and realistic characters, you will love this!
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy in return for a review and my thanks to Simon Booker for another sleepless night!
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