Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
Staincliffe is great on disappearances and if it’s distressing for a daughter to go missing from home it’s unbearably harrowing for all contact to cease inexplicably when she’s on the other side of the world.
Jo Maddox is an intelligent modern mother with two small boys by her second husband, her daughter, Lori, by her first. It is Lori who is about to start a tour of the Far East. Although she is going with friends her mother is unhappy, her father all for it, Lori herself carefree and excited as she is seen off at the airport en route for Thailand.
An unexceptional month follows. Lori does the tourist thing, blogs in full, makes new friends, goes to China, gets a job teaching English, and extends her stay. She writes about the alien culture: peculiar food, appalling hygiene, exquisite sidelights, smog. Back home in Manchester her mother slaves away as a supply teacher, runs her home and her adored boys (but one showing signs of aggression at school) - and her husband is made redundant. In China Lori rambles on about bad water, weather, her apartment … and the blogs stop. Her phone is switched off, her friends have lost contact. She is missing.
Lori is 23, a mature and balanced woman on the whole but inexperienced and vulnerable to her mother who is now set on a period of frustration that is to last for the greater part of the book. Deeply concerned at the inability of her local police to help, dismissing their insistence that any investigation must be left to the Chinese, Jo links up with Lori’s father and flies to China.
What follows suggests that part of police procedure that is never depicted in print or film: the tedium of grinding work behind the scenes – except that here it is not the police who are searching for Lori but her parents: in a teeming smog-swathed city where they don’t speak the language. Every check and miniscule advance is recorded, the suspense mounting until it quickens to erupt in an explosive climax of horror.
An astounding and perceptive book that demonstrates in dreadful detail every stricken parent’s craving for closure during the agonising search for a missing child.