Six year old Lola Jade Harper has been missing for seven months after disappearing from her mother’s home in Eastwell, Surrey. A child likely to be at the heart of a bitter custody battle, she appears to have been abducted to order and inevitably her father, Gavin, is a major suspect. Now Gavin has also disappeared and given that there have been reported sightings of Lola Jade on the continent, the National Crime Agency, once better known as Interpol, has been tasked to assist in finding him. DI Rachel Prince and her Sergeant, Mark Brickall, are handed the file and told to liaise with the Surrey force in an attempt to discover whether the little girl has been taken abroad to keep her from her mother.
However, Michelle Harper may not be all that she seems. While most of the social network comments are supportive of her, there are other indications that she is seriously unstable and very early in her involvement with the case Rachel finds herself questioning just how sincere Lola Jade’s mother is wanting to find the child. Making sure that her husband takes the blame appears to be much more important. When Gavin is eventually tracked down and it becomes apparent that his daughter isn’t with him attention turns back to the UK and Michelle Harper’s movements come under closer scrutiny. Why has she moved out of the family home to live with her sister and what is happening to the money that has been collected on a just giving site to help with the search?
The Missing Child raises a number of interesting questions about the dynamics of family life. If a marriage starts to go wrong how do you deal with the growing awareness that you have made a mistake? Rachel herself has a failed relationship behind her: one from which she has withdrawn without allowing either herself or her husband any form of closure. What happens when husband and wife have different views not only about having children but also as to how any children should be brought up? How much can one sibling ask of another and what are the consequences when sibling bonds are broken? And, most pertinently, what are the consequences when love for a child is subverted by love of oneself. Alison James successfully manages to integrate each of these different strands into both the central plot and the background material she provides about her main characters in this her first novel. At the end of the book the reader is left not only with a satisfactory storyline but also with sufficient detail about Rachel, her Sergeant and their personal and professional histories to feel that they are real people with real lives.
This is an accomplished first novel, well plotted, with convincingly drawn characters and also stylishly written. It isn’t that often that the first in a series is strong enough to make me automatically put a writer on my go-to list of authors but I shall definitely be on the look out for Alison James’ next novel. I think she may be a writer to watch.
With thanks to NetGalley for making this available for review.