Author – Simon Booker
Published – 28 January 2016 (ebook)
Genre – Crime fiction
Without Trace might be a debut novel from author Simon Booker but he’s no stranger to writing crime fiction – he’s an experienced screenwriter with credits including Inspector Lynley Murders And Mrs Bradley Murders.
Although Without Trace’s main character is a journalist, Morgan Vine has missed the boat on investigative journalism and instead has been writing a weekly ‘Me and My Fridge’ column. She also does some cleaning near her home in Dungeness and runs a book group for prisoners. Oh, and one of the prisoners is her old flame, Danny Kilcannon, in prison for killing his teenage step-daughter. Vine has been campaigning for Kilcannon’s release, never having believed that he could be guilty. The book opens just before Kilcannon’s appeal is heard and after a key witness retracts their statement it’s not a spoiler to say that he is released.
Vine is still carrying a torch for Kilcannon but it’s not clear how he feels towards her. He certainly doesn’t appear to be as grateful for the support she’s given his campaign as she would like. But she’s distracted by the arrival of Lissa, her own teenage daughter, who has returned to the UK from a trip to her father in California and Lissa is testing the boundaries in every way she can.
The heart of the story is what happens when Lissa disappears. Has she just gone off in a sulk after a disagreement or is there something more sinister to it? The mysterious messages being left for Vine suggest the latter but her faith in Kilcannon is unshakeable. For a while. The writing cleverly makes you question what is happening. Booker does a nice job of leading the reader down one path with a sentence so you think ‘I know where this is going’ and then snatching it away in the next. Nothing like keeping us on our toes!
There’s a backstory which explains the relationship between Vine and Kilcannon and it also gives quite an insight into Vine’s childhood. Although disturbing it felt as if it was being delivered for the reader to draw their conclusions about the impact it had on the characters.
I do enjoy the writing style of people who have developed their skill as a screenwriter (I Am Pilgrim for example) as they really keep the plot moving along. Although the locations are integral to the story and provide some changes of pace and tension the descriptions felt quite spare, it was like looking through a camera lens and just focusing on the points that were really relevant. Dungeness itself is very recognisable and the remote, coastal location offers a great opportunity for creating suspense.
This is an unusual approach to crime fiction / psychological thrillers. I liked Vine, she wasn’t quite what I expected and I do prefer pace over long-winded descriptions. If there was one thing that jarred for me it was that I would have expected Vine to go to pieces more than she did the longer Lissa was missing.
It was impossible not to read this, especially with its focus on miscarriages of justice and see some similarities with the case of Billie-Jo Jenkins. Interestingly as the first in a series the future books will have Vine investigating more miscarriages of justice.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy of the book. You can see another point of view on Cleo’s blog. On 3rd Feb I’ll have a post from Simon talking about the difference between screen and novel writing as part of a blog tour.