The Missing | C.L. Taylor | 2016 (7 April) | Avon | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Claire Wilkinson is traumatised by the disappearance six months before of Billy, her fifteen-year old son. After Billy walked out of the house for that last time, the police told Claire that this would be the worst day, that every day afterwards would be easier. Finally, there would come a point when she could live a life again. But Claire cannot believe any of this. Six months on and the pain is greater that ever, especially now that the case has grown cold. Claire, her husband Mark and elder son Jake have been asked to attend a press conference to mark the six months but few journalists attend – but, considering how badly the event goes, this is probably just as well.
The stress has made Claire ill. She suffers from blackouts, periods of amnesia, and these, combined with her determined hunt for Billy among the homeless and dispossessed youth of Bristol, their home town, makes Claire’s family increasingly worried. But it’s not just Billy that Claire has to worry about. Kira, Jake’s girlfriend, lives with them in the family home and Claire has noticed bruises.
The Missing tells the story of the impact of a lost teenager on his family and the upset – and guilt – that is caused when the parents realise how little they understand a son on the verge of adulthood. Inevitably, Billy has secrets and it is no easy task to understand why he is gone. This isn’t a child who was stolen. As far as anyone is aware, he simply walked away. But the more that the parents try and understand Billy through the clues he left behind, the more they must re-examine their relationship with the other son who stayed behind. And then there is the relationship between Claire and Mark. It’s difficult to imagine any relationship emerging unscathed from these six awful months, particularly when Claire herself is missing in so many ways.
Claire provides much of the narrative, although we do hear other voices. But Claire’s ‘episodes’ turn Claire into one of those essential requirements of many psychological thrillers – an unreliable narrator. The loss of children and the impact of this on their families seems to be a particularly common theme in novels this year. The fact that Billy is older does make The Missing a little different and it is very difficult not to care for Claire. Her voice is particularly well done and her pain cries off the page. Mixed in throughout are extracts from text or messenger chats between two unknown characters. These serve well to highlight failures in communication between members of this family.
There wasn’t enough to make The Missing particularly stand out for me from many of the other psychological novels I’ve read over the last couple of years. Its focus is on Claire’s state of mind rather than twists and so I wasn’t especially surprised by the conclusion, but I have to admit that by this stage I’d become rather depressed by the whole thing. This may well say more about me than the novel – that it didn’t deliver what I was expecting – but I didn’t enjoy The Missing as much as I hoped. There is unremitting sadness here, relieved little by intrigue or mystery. Nevertheless, CL Taylor writes very well and Claire Wilkinson is a fine creation.