Written by Emma Rowley — Cheshire schoolgirl Sophie Harlow went missing on 17 February 2017. The 16-year-old walked out of Amberton Grammar School during a revision period, and her family and friends haven’t seen her since. She left a note for her parents explaining she needed some space, and after they received a postcard from her, postmarked London, the local police downgraded their search.
It is now two years later, and Sophie’s mother, Kate, hasn’t given up hope of finding her. Every day she thinks of Sophie and what might have happened to her. Are there any clues the police might have missed? Did she truly run away or was she taken? The local police are beginning to show their impatience with her requests for updates, and her father and sister are becoming concerned for her.
They worry about Kate’s sedative prescription, and the overdose she took earlier in the year. They are concerned that since Mark left, her only social contact is with her elderly neighbour with dementia, and that volunteering as a telephone operator in a charity for missing persons is hardly healthy.
Kate’s hope is kick-started by a call to the helpline. The reception is awful, and the call is brief, but she’s convinced that it’s her daughter’s voice on the phone, telling her she’s OK. On hearing the news, rather than being supportive, her family are concerned that her obsession is becoming dangerous. The police are sceptical that the missing daughter has called a helpline that Kate just happens to have volunteered for, and was put through to her. It’s too much of a coincidence.
Kate’s own investigation doesn’t get off to the best of starts. She manages to upset Sophie’s friends Holly and David. It’s only when she learns of another missing girl – this one 20 years ago, but with incredible similarities – that she begins to get anywhere.
Having previously written companions for Downton Abbey, Emma Rowley has created a psychological thriller that puts her protagonist through the wringer in a way that Alfred Hitchcock would surely approve of. Every time Kate turns to someone for help, they question her motives, or her sanity, and Kate is more isolated than ever. Rowley writes Kate as an unreliable narrator, and for much of the book you might not be sure whether to side with the protagonist or her doubters.
Having everything filtered through Kate does have its drawbacks. Her anxious thoughts become exhausting after a while, but you’ll be starved of any other perspective. Unfortunately Mark is completely absent, and her dad and sister fare little better.
The second half of the book is better than the first. Some of the chapters are narrated by Sophie, and the answer to the mystery of her disappearance is gradually resolved. It is not spoiling the novel to reveal that she is alive – that is clear early on – and the focus of the book becomes Kate’s search for her, and whether or not Sophie can be rescued from the peril that she faces.
There’s more than one twist in the tale, and Rowley handles the changes in pace as the finale arrives expertly. Where the Missing Go is a solid debut, and right on trend as a psychological noir, but perhaps lacks the variety of tone and character depth that made This is What Happened such a standout.
Also see Presumed Dead by Mason Cross.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars