Written by Claire McGowan — Ireland may be renowned for its love of ‘the craic’ – good times, smiles and a drop of the black stuff – but it has a troubled and turbulent history too. Having links with the south of the country myself, I’m not a great fan of the erroneous ‘diddly-eye-di’ view of the Irish. Happily, there is no sign of that here. Herself a native of Northern Ireland, Claire McGowan is not one to shy away from her country’s past – and present – problems.
The Lost the title refers to are many and varied, but primary among them are the people who go missing every year – one every two minutes in Britain, according to Paula Maguire, the forensic psychologist who is the central character of the book. A sobering thought, isn’t it? As we meet Paula, she is giving a lecture to an enraptured audience at a conference in York. It is obviously a subject close to her heart, and we soon learn that she has been involved in a successful operation in London, where a missing girl was found alive.
But Paula doesn’t like to play it by the book – a characteristic which does not sit well with the higher-ups at the police force who have benefited from her skills. Her refusal to follow the rules, coupled with an urgent request for her expertise from a senior officer (who just happened to be at her York lecture) soon see Paula leaving the capital and returning to the last place on earth she wants to be – her home town of Ballyterrin.
The town is on the border between the North and the Republic, and two seemingly unconnected teenagers have vanished. It is many years since she last set foot in the place, and we soon come to realise that Ballyterrin is a town which houses myriad secrets, some of them involving the Maguire family themselves. Paula’s father is a former RUC officer who had his run-ins with the IRA and is now retired from the recently-renamed Police Service of Northern Ireland. Her mother is another story, for when Paula was just a teenager, her Mum went out of the house, never to return. To this day, no one knows whether she is alive or dead. Which goes some way to explaining Paula’s affinity with the families of the missing… but is that the whole story?
Finding herself surrounded by people and places she has tried hard to erase from her memory, Paula throws herself into the investigation in her own unique way. But the deeper she digs, the further from her grasp the answers appear to be. Could there be a connection to another two disappearances back in the mid-1980s? And why does everything seem to relate to the town’s darkest past?
Forensic psychologists are getting to be ten-a-penny in the world of crime fiction, but Paula Maguire is a great addition to the ranks. She knows her job, but carries it out in ways that have the reader’s heart a’thumping – for this is one lady who refuses point blank to play it by the book. I get annoyed by reality TV stars who are always waffling on about the ‘journey’ they are on. In Paula’s case, I get the distinct feeling we haven’t even left the station yet, and that really excites me.
This is an intriguing novel from Director of the Crime Writers’ Association, Claire McGowan – an author who won plaudits for her debut, The Fall. We are promised that The Lost is just the opener to a series featuring Paula Maguire, and I for one can’t wait to get to know her better. After all, we’ve plenty of loose ends to tie up, and a whole world of forensic psychology to explore out there together!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars