Vanished

Written by Tim Weaver — Every year, Londoners disappear. They vanish from the face of the metropolis, some for months, some for years, and some for ever. David Raker is an ex-journalist and reporter who has carved a niche tracing missing people, and when Julia Wren hires him to find her husband, Raker calls on an extensive network of informants, insiders and hackers to get to the truth. Sam Wren boarded his underground train at Gloucester Road six months previously, and was never seen again.

While Raker pores over hours of CCTV footage in his search, a series of disappearances is baffling police across London. Young men are being taken from their homes. There are no bodies, no forensics, no ransom demands – all that is left of them is their shaven hair. DCI Craw headsthe investigation team, and she takes a gamble by bringing in a disgraced and demoted officer, Colm Healy. Healy is beginning a period of rehabilitation after taking the law into his own hands during the search for his missing daughter and is despised by the other detectives on the team.

The police response to Sam Wren’s disappearance was perfunctory and inconclusive, and as Raker drills down through the layers of complacency, he uncovers disturbing truths which turn the case on its head, and bring it into convergence with the police search for ‘The Snatcher’ and his victims. Raker is tough, persistent and perceptive, and he discovers links to financial wrong-doing in the cut-throat world of investment banking, and even darker deeds involving people trafficking and child prostitution.

Raker and Healy are very different men, but they are united by having buried the person they loved the most in the world. Healy fuels his grief with anger and a desire for revenge, but Raker channels his anguish into his work. Unlikely allies, they forge a bond of respect. Raker realises that the answer to his quest – and possibly to Healy’s – lies in the labyrinth of disused tunnels, stations and cuttings of the London Underground system. The search for answers begins to focus on crumbling staircases, weed-infested platforms and waiting rooms inhabited only by ghosts. Somewhere down one of these damp staircases or behind a rusted safety grill, Raker and Healy know that the truth waits.

Vanished is a fluent and assured piece of crime fiction. The plotting is excellent – Tim Weaver ties in the apparently divergent events with convincing ease. The villains are truly nasty, the way they go about their work is all too plausible, and the tension between Healy and his fellow officers is described in excruciating detail. The descriptions of ‘hidden London’ are well-researched and authoritative. The story follows on from The Dead Tracks, where we learned about Healy and Raker, and what has shaped their lives. Weaver skilfully deals with this, and makes the novel work as a stand-alone.

I have two criticisms of the book, one generic to this style of thriller, and one more specific. There are several occasions when Raker puts himself in mortal danger by going headlong into situations which are bound to put him in peril. For example, he blunders into a tunnel complex armed only with a torch app on his iPhone, and we all know that something awful is waiting for him round the next dark bend. Yes, it is exciting up to a point, but it stretches our credulity and makes Raker appear too gung-ho to be completely believable. More seriously, the author uses a split-viewpoint narrative, partly first person, and partly third person. This works well enough until the end, despite a series of flashback sections which, while explaining Healy’s behaviour, serve also to distract. In the closing pages of the book, the split viewpoint technique unravels and without giving anything away, it left me scratching my head and feeling a little unsatisfied.

Penguin Books
Print/Kindle
£4.99

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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