Written by Koethi Zan — The ‘will they, won’t they?’ storyline is standard issue in romantic tales for page, stage and screen. So why mention it in the context of this book? In truth, there’s precious little romance within the pages of The Follower, though it does feature a twisted love triangle of sorts. Bear with me…
Julie is a golden girl. Talented, beautiful, privileged, she glides through life without a care in the world. Then she is abducted, and thus begins an existence beyond her worst nightmares. She’s been snatched by James, a shadowy figure who spends much of his time on the periphery as this story progresses. Self-styled preacher, former leader of a ramshackle cult, James has twin hobbies – abducting girls like Julie, holding them captive to mistreat and abuse, and subtly meting out the same treatment to his long-suffering wife, Cora.
There certainly appear to have been previous captives, but The Follower throws its full focus on Julie and Cora and the relationship between them – the ‘will-they? won’t they?’ scenario mentioned earlier. In this case, it’s whether the pair can find any common ground at all. After all, Julie had the world at her feet, while Cora… well, that’s a whole other story…
Prepare for switchbacks and deviations worthy of the finest fairground ride as American author Koethi Zan juggles timelines and viewpoints, offering tiny snippets of revelation that, together, gradually show the reader the bigger picture. Cora and Julie are the star attractions here, with James creating havoc and then retreating into the distance. The third person in this triangle is Adam Miller, a disgraced police officer on a mission. He is obsessed with finding missing girls.
Adam is obsessive to the point of near madness, and he is carrying with him case notes and evidence that he stole from police files before his dismissal. They centre upon the case of a missing girl, Laura Martin, who vanished 20 years ago, after three of her school friends were murdered. He leads a blinkered existence, ignoring pleas from his mother and new love interest Deirdre to let it go and get on with his life.
But Adam isn’t prepared to stop until he has found the missing girl. It is a quest spurred on by family history – before he was even born, Adam’s sister, Abigail, just seven years old, vanished never to be seen again. His target in life is to capture stealers of children and find the children they took. Laura Martin is just one of many, but she becomes the centre of his world.
Meanwhile, Cora is alone with her captive, on a rundown estate in upstate New York, and through her thoughts and memories we learn that she has been to many places, in many different guises, following in the wake of her drunken, abusive father. Once, James seemed like a good, safe way out; now she realises what a mistake that was. It seems that she and Julie have more in common than they realise and their claustrophobic, off-kilter existence sends waves of despair off the page.
There is much to admire in this book, but the weak link is Adam, whose single-minded quest does get a little wearing at times. His chapters slow the momentum – just when things are getting interesting, he appears, like an unwanted guest at the party, and puts a spanner in the works. He has an important part to play, but you’ll wish he’d get to it a bit quicker.
It’s a long time coming, but when the final pieces of this complicated jigsaw begin to fall into place, the picture isn’t perhaps what you first expected. Like Koehti Zan’s acclaimed debut, The Never List, this is a tale designed to surprise right to the bitter end.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars