In Missing Presumed Dead, Arlene Hunt taps into the most basic, prescient fear of parents – that of a child going missing, but what makes her book interesting is that she explores the fall out of what happens if that child returns.
In 1980, a two year old girl called Katie goes missing on a beach while playing with her brother at the water’s edge. She is presumed drowned and one man who saw something suspicious is not taken seriously.
In 2006, Katie’s mother receives the locket she was wearing that day in the post when at the same time a young girl arrives on the doorstep if a retired GP and shoots him dead. The young girl is Katie Jones. Katie’s brother hires Sarah Kenny and John Quigley of QuiK Investigations to look into where Katie has been for all these years and what brought her to this terrible act.
It’s a striking premise and one that raises interesting questions about loss and revenge, but this book isn’t one to look too inwardly. It moves at a brisk pace, as Sarah investigates in Dublin and her partner John follows leads in London. Throw in to the mix a sub-plot featuring a violent ex of Sarah’s and you have a frenetic page-turner of a book.
Sarah and John are reminiscent in a way of Denis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro investigative duo, with their banter, great working partnership and unresoved romantic situation. In Missing Presumed Dead, the romance seemed a little unnecessary to me, but this is the third book in a series and the only one I’ve read and that lack of back story may have been the issue. Hunt’s characters are well developed and believable, with Sarah’s dementia suffering mother and warring sisters providing a nice back drop to the investigative scenes.
Separating the two detective partners is also a nice touch. As Sarah’s ex begins to circle ever closer, she is left to deal with the situation on her own and the climax of the book centres not just on working out Katie’s past but on working out Sarah’s too.
Hunt is also particularly good at exploring parental love and loss and Katie’s mother and father are particularly well drawn, with some lovely emotive scenes. At the end of the day though, this is a thriller and it doesn’t waste too much time with feelings and emotions. A little bit more of them may have elevated it into a more thoughtful, human story, but that isn’t the aim of the book. It’s a page turner and as Kenny and Quigley delve into a murky world of lies and betrayal, Hunt provides enough suspense, plotting that is incredibly clever and a pace that never lets up to make the book a success.
It is interesting to see an Irish writer work within the ‘private detective’ genre and Dublin as a setting is both gritty and realistic – Hunt cleverly shows how the distance between the grimy underbelly of the city is not so far from the tree-lined affluence of the middle classes. It reminded me a little of the work of Harlan Coben in that I enjoyed reading it, I was swept along by the narrative and I would check out more of her worl, but I wouldn’t want to read another Arlene Hunt for a while. It’s escapism. A good old-fashioned beach read of a crime novel and no less effective for that.
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