Written by Christobel Kent — The tagline of this psychological thriller had me on the back foot. ‘Your best friend will always be there for you… won’t she?’ Cue, betrayal by the bestie who is supposed to look out for you? Wrong.
No, the real clue is in the title. The woman who has disappeared is Beth, a party girl who works in the Bird in Hand pub and is quaintly described as a barmaid. Beth is a head-turner with a huge fan club of male admirers and lovers in the drinking hole near a sinister estuary in an unspecified area of England.
Her co-worker and best pal Nat realises something is wrong, but nearly everyone except Nat initially thinks Beth has gone off with the love of her life after a brief text is sent, then there is radio silence.
Nat knows Beth would not have left behind her phone and clothes, missed a hospital appointment or forgotten to say goodbye. Nat attempts to raise the alarm several times, but of course, the police think she is a time-waster and so does the community.
We know from the prologue that a woman has been killed. And we have access to the unknown murderer’s thoughts throughout the novel. He’s right there watching Nat, stalking for pleasure. In the meantime he kills a boy, Ollie, another Beth fan.
There are some retro chick lit-style flashbacks to girly chats between Beth, the waspish landlady Janine and Nat before the action gets going. They talk about sex, Tinder, unreliable men, and so forth. However, once Nat is on the trail of Beth’s relationships and investigating her secrets there’s pace and intrigue and plenty of questions to answer.
Suspects and people with something to hide are numerous, along with misogynists and some downright creepy characters. There’s Beth’s wimpy ex-squeeze Jonathan, Nat’s desperate ex-partner Jim, Janine’s walk-in new partner Steve, Nat’s new fling Bill who is a blank page, Ollie’s disturbed friend Craig, the always on call taxi driver Don and helpful boat owner and pub punter Paddy. The community and its messy alliances and enmities are well drawn.
What really got me emotionally engaged with this novel was rooting for Victor, a 92-year-old pub regular. He collapses with a suspected stroke after seeing a man with blood on his arm walk up from the river where the boy Ollie’s body was caught in a sluice.
As Victor struggles to remember what frightened him and to muster some strength within his failing body and communicate what he knows, he suspects his life is in danger. After all, people die in hospital. Kent pulls of Victor’s scenes brilliantly with a sense of menace and danger that is real. And he isn’t imagining that his life is at risk and not just because of old age.
There’s a distracting subplot as Victor attempts to rescue his daughter Sophie and grandson Rufus from his abusive son-in-law Richard. He reminds Victor of a sadistic lieutenant he served with in World War II. This works to reinforce Victor’s status as a hero and decent chap, so not all men are untrustworthy bastards. It also emphasises that women who are brutalised by men can move on from being victims and take control.
Most of Victor’s scenes are compelling; his measured thoughts unravel the truth in a quiet contrast to Beth’s frenetic quest to discover what has happened to Beth.
We know a killer is out to get Beth and Victor, but will they realise who it is in time? There’s high jeopardy for both in the final scenes and Kent pulls off this whodunit in the main without flagging. The Day She Disappeared, which we previewed here, is not as intense and atmospheric as her chilling previous thriller, The Loving Husband, but unsettling enough to satisfy.
Following a series set in Florence featuring private investigator Sandro Cellin, Kent reignited her career with three standalone thrillers beginning with The Crooked House.
If you like Christobel Kent you might like Broadchurch, the novel, or Erin Kelly’s The Burning Air. For thrillers about people who disappear try CL Taylor’s The Missing and Susie Steiner’s Missing Presumed.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars