After Anna | Alex Lake | 2015 | Harper | 408p | Review copy | Buy the book
In a quiet town in Cheshire, a five-year-old girl is snatched from the school gates, disappearing into thin air, her teachers distracted and her mother just a few minutes late to collect her. The mother, Julia, knows that she will never be able to forgive herself for those few late minutes for the rest of her life, and neither will her husband, Brian. The town, led by the police, unites to hunt for Anna. No stone is left unturned. Meanwhile, Julia falls to pieces, as does her marriage. The lost girl is irresistable to the press and social media and they need someone to blame. They settle on Julia, the mother who arrived at the school too late to save her child and is unable to cope with the consequences. Julia, alone, faces complete desolation.
But After Anna is no usual tale of a lost child. We know before we begin that Anna will return and she does, hardly able to remember a thing that happened to her, the mystery as mysterious ever, leaving Julia happy but anxious. The nightmare for Julia has not ended, in fact it has barely begun.
I am very hard to please with psychological thrillers, usually because I couldn’t care less for the people in them. I Let you Go by Clare Mackintosh is the obvious exception to the rule and now, with After Anna, there is another.
After Anna is addictive. I picked it up to see how I got on with it and when I put it down I was well over half of the way through it. The following morning I didn’t shift until I had finished. It wasn’t just the mystery of how it would end that drove me – although this is ridiculously compelling, it was my care for Julia. Alex Lake is such a good writer. Julia’s thoughts are exposed before us. She allows us in and it’s not long at all before we feel deeply for this poor caring woman, whom, it seems, the world itself is conspiring against. Julia never feels anything less than real.
Alex Lake captures the horror of losing a child. These pages are hard to read as we feel Julia’s suffering and share her worry for her small, lovable daughter. But that’s just part of the novel. After Anna is also perfectly structured and wonderfully clever. It moves from fraught and emotional to thrilling and harrowing. The sense of loss is replaced by tension and fear.
After Anna is a novel that surprises and thrills. It is immensely hard to put down – as compelling as it is clever and as tense as it is emotional. Without doubt, this is one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read and it makes me determined to stick with a genre that does, unfortunately, so often disappoint. I heartily recommend it. Alex Lake is a pseudonym and I am very intrigued to know the name of the author behind it. I would be delighted to add more of her (I’m assuming it’s a her) books to the reading pile.