Missing Person, the latest thriller from the author of The Three, Day Four and The White Road, Sarah Lotz, was my companion on a recent overseas flight and kept me so entertained that I hardly noticed the long hours flying by.
Lotz is one of those versatile storytellers whose imagination knows no bounds. She addresses themes that are topical, but is never predictable or didactic and is not afraid to push the boundaries of genres. Despite part one opening “in a cemetery on a damp October evening”, unlike her previous three novels, Missing Person does not include the supernatural. Instead, it ventures into a space that is just as inscrutable: the internet.
An online platform specialising in identifying victims of unresolved crimes in the States goes on a mission to find the person behind the corpse knows as the Boy in the Dress, suspected to be Teddy Ryan. Unbeknownst to them, the group of hobby detectives involved are joined in their search by the killer responsible for the young man’s death. They are also assisted by Teddy’s nephew, Shaun, who’d been made to believe by his family that his uncle had died in a car accident years ago in Ireland. Determined to understand what led to Teddy’s demise, Shaun travels from Wales to the States and meets with the amateur sleuths of Missing-linc.com, none of them suspecting that he might be on direct collision course with his uncle’s murderer and that a single wrong gesture can have lethal consequences.
“If he doesn’t approach me, I’ll leave him alone”, the killer remembers first seeing his victim at a bar. The young man approached, sealing his fate. But was he the only one? Is this crime connected to another unsolved case?
The attempt to piece together the puzzle of Teddy’s mysterious disappearance is a way for Shaun of trying to cope with his life after the loss of his mother to cancer. His relationship with the rest of the family is strained. The affair he is having with a married man is burdened by too many lies. It’s hard to trust others when so much of your experience is steeped in deceit. Shaun likes his work at a bookshop, but questions whether there isn’t more to life than that.
Lotz’s other characters – the cyber detectives with their own fascinating stories and motives as well as the people in Shaun’s everyday life – are movingly drawn, believable and thus highly relatable. The murderer’s back story and his present life are chilling in their calculated simplicity. Missing Person is well-paced and, even though you know from almost the start who the killer is, the novel has great twist and turns that I did not see coming. Dialogue is another aspect of the book that Lotz does extremely well. No wonder that the thriller comes with endorsements from the master himself, Stephen King, and our own queen of the genre, Lauren Beukes.
Hodder & Stoughton, 2019
Review first published in the Cape Times, 28 February 2020.