Written by Michael Robotham — “My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago”. Such a simple little sentence to open a book destined to send the reader reeling from a gamut of killer plotline punches.
I’m ashamed to say that this is my first foray into the writing of Michael Robotham – although he has a previous life as a ghost writer to the likes of Geri Halliwell and Ricky Tomlinson, so perhaps I’d read his work without knowing it! Suffice to say that I’ll be looking up his back catalogue of thrillers – and there are seven in all, many of them award winners – at the earliest opportunity.
When Piper and her best friend Tash disappeared there was a huge police search which came to naught. The media dubbed them ‘The Bingham Girls’ and local opinions were split. Some thought the girls had run away to London, others believed them dead and buried in an unknown location.
The truth is that they were abducted and held captive by a man they nickname George, because Tash says he looks like a fatter version of George Clooney. The girls have been held for three long years when Tash, pushed to breaking point by the abuse meted out by their captor, manages to escape. Left behind in a dark and dingy cellar room, Piper keeps sane by focusing on her friend’s return and by imagining the freedom that is sure to follow.
Things come to head after the brutal murders of a husband and wife at the farmhouse where Tash once lived. A troubled, mentally fragile young man who worked for them as a casual gardener and handyman is arrested. He claims to hear voices, and in explanation as to why he was at the property in the midst of a raging blizzard, can only offer a rambling story about a young girl being chased by a snowman. Clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is called in to assess the suspect, but the ensuing conversations throw up doubts that the young man could have committed the killings. Joe comes to the shocking conclusion that Piper and Tash could still be alive. Can he persuade the already sceptical head of the local police to reopen the investigation?
This is the fourth outing in print for O’Loughlin and his trusty companion, ex-police officer Vincent Ruiz, and they make a formidable team. An added twist is that Joe has Parkinson’s Disease, and this is handled extremely well by the author, almost turning the illness into an extra character. Robotham is a dab hand at adroit characterisation, and I particularly applaud his excellent portrayal of the two girls.
I’d planned this as a weekend read, but was so drawn in that I had to finish it in a day. The story rattles along and the twists and turns are unexpected and exciting. You’ll be taken up a number of blind alleys before the rip-roaring finale catches you unawares. This is crime thriller writing at its very best.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars