Before It’s Too Late | Jane Isaac | 2015 | Legend Press | 288p | Review copy | Buy the book
Min Li, a Chinese student studying in Stratford-upon-Avon, has been stolen. Earlier in the evening she’d had a quarrel with her boyfriend Tom and ended up leaving the pub they were in to walk home late at night on her own. She didn’t get there. Drugged and with her face covered, Min wakes up in a concrete box, about four metres’ square, with nothing but a small grill in the ceiling to provide air and light. The sounds tell Min she is far from people, in a wood, and the damp and the rats tell her that she is trapped underground, buried alive.
The disappearance of Min Li gives Detective Will Jackman his first big case to lead and he is determined to find her. Stratford is troubled by the recent murder of a young girl in the town and it is imperative that he discovers whether or not there is a link. Working with Will is a close team, compensating him for the pressure handed down from above. Stratford-upon-Avon is not a town where this sort of thing happens. The pressure builds as the clock ticks away for the young and terrified Min Li. And it isn’t long before another young person joins her in the buried concrete box.
Before It’s Too Late is an addictive read. Our sympathies are immediately given to Min Li, aided by the regular chapters which give us Min’s point of view. There is so much to admire in Min. She never gives up hope even though, the more we learn, the more we must fear for her.
While we care for Min, we also care for Will Jackman. Not all is well with his life and this influences him strongly but it doesn’t overshadow his character or the plot. it is handled very well, as is the relationship between Will and his visiting daughter. I also liked Will’s team members very much.
The plot is exciting and tense and it also puts us in some interesting locations – there is Stratford-upon-Avon, of course (an unusual and pleasing setting for a crime novel), as well as Birmingham as the case takes Will deep into the Chinese community there. There is a strong sense of location throughout. While I did guess much of what was to happen in the book, this didn’t matter. I rather felt that I was supposed to know and that the psychology of the characters matters more than the suspense of a whodunnit.
Jane Isaac is a fine writer and a sensitive one. She has created a fascinating detective in Will Jackman. This is his first outing but I certainly hope it will be the first of many.