Many of the books I read unfold in dual timelines. Quite often decades apart. The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell offers three separate narratives, though only a year apart. It means secrets and lies haven’t had time to fester, but it means wounds are still fresh and grief is still palpable. Of course it may also mean the story is not yet over.
The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell
Published by Century
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.
Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.
The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah's friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.
She never returns.
2018: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her bo
yfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.
'DIG HERE' . . .
The events of June 2017 and the days and weeks (and months) that come after are told from the point of view of Kim. We also meet her in 2018 after Sophie arrives in the Surrey Hills with her partner, Shaun, the new principal at a local school. Sophie writes crime novels so naturally curious but she’s conscious she’s never actually pursued a mystery of her own. Rather she’s left that for the characters she’s created. (Who, she tells us, are popular in Scandinavian countries. And Vietnam.)
The book opens with the night Tallulah goes missing and Jewell takes us back and forth as Kim tries to get the police to believe two 19 year olds (Tallulah and her boyfriend Zach, who’s also the father of her one year old child) haven’t run away of their own accord. The trail’s gone cold by the time Sophie arrives and literally digs up a new clue.
We also meet Tallulah in the months before she goes missing. She’s started at a local college and meets the charismatic Scarlett, whose place she and Zach were last seen.
I didn’t engage as much with Kim, but am conscious she’s grieving and struggling to care for her two year old grandson when she thought those years were behind her.
I really liked Sophie and the way Jewell expresses the development of her relationship with Shaun, though found the mid-late book change-of-heart a little odd. She’s a dogged character though and perfect to play detective. I should mention I also liked that Sophie’s happy to hand anything she learns over to the police for them to follow up – as it’s a nice change to most fictional amateur sleuths who take ridiculous risks in pursuing cases.
Jewell does a great job at planting us in Tallulah’s head. In some ways it feels like we’re only there for the backstory but her reluctance over reigniting her relationship with Zach, her feelings towards her son and her awareness of the fact she’s changing feel very real. She’s a deep thinker in many ways and I could very much relate to her overthinking about… well, everything.
I’ve read a few books in recent weeks or months in which a character initially appears one way but then is slowly revealed, or emerges, as something else. That’s the case here – in several instances – and there’s a sense of menace that Jewell is able to sustain for most of the book. (As an aside I note I also talked about a sense of menace in my review of Jewell’s previous book, The Family Upstairs!)
I was a little surprised by the direction she takes here, but it was a welcome one and (ultimately) something a little different.
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and released today.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.