The Disappeared by Sibel Hodge

2 Mins read

How far would you go for a bar of chocolate? I’m guessing not as far as some of the people in this thought-provoking novel, which has the shocking subject of child slavery on cocoa plantations at its dark heart.

We’re mere weeks into 2019 and already this reviewer has travelled far and wide while never leaving the comfort of her armchair. First was Maryland, USA, then New South Wales in Australia – now the destination is the fictional African country of Nurumbe.

But in England, Nicole Palmer isn’t coping well with widowhood. Since her doctor husband Mason was killed in a light plane crash in the West African country of Nurumbe, she’s thrown herself into her work as a teacher, not giving herself any time to think about what happened. When he died, Mason was working for the charity Health International, running a hospital in the war torn country. His plane went down in deep jungle held by rebels and has never been recovered.

Nicole is taking each day at a time, but her resolve is shattered when she receives a photo in the post. It is of her husband and was taken recently in Barcelona. There’s even a cryptic note scrawled on the back in his handwriting – a message that would only mean something to her and Mason. Thus begins a story that’s destined to take the reader on a real journey of discovery.

Nicole is convinced Mason is alive, but the note warned her to tell no one and when bad things start to happen she tries to follow that advice to the letter. It’s hard, for example, when a man tries to snatch you at gunpoint, in broad daylight. When Nicole plucks up courage and goes to the police with her story, it’s clear they don’t believe a word she tells them.

Who to turn to? Well, there is Nicole’s uncle Charlie, a former criminal who is living off the proceeds of a bank robbery that the police never managed to pin on him. He’s twiddling his thumbs these days and up for a bit of excitement – though perhaps not this much excitement. He and Nicole make an oddly entertaining pair and soon they’re heading off to Narumbe in search of the truth about Mason’s untimely ‘death’. Meanwhile, poor Mason has problems of his own…

There’s a lot to like about The Disappeared, with the relationship between Nicole and Charlie at the top of the list. The action moves across continents, seen from the viewpoints of Nicole, Mason, DS Harris – the only police officer who takes Nicole’s claims seriously – and the shadowy Blade, a man without scruples who is ready to kill anyone who gets in his way.

Sibel Hodge is a well respected author who is unafraid of tackling tough subjects in her works of fiction. Here, she reveals the plight of child slaves, mistreated at the hands of unscrupulous cocoa growers. Narumbe may be a fictional place, but child slavery is a reality in some parts of West Africa. It makes for disturbing reading and may well put you off your Mars Bar or Kit Kat.

Prepare for moments that will shock and surprise, alongside others that have a touch of unreality about them. The latter goings on in Geneva really push the bounds of realism to the limits and at times I felt this book lacked a sense of place, with the scenes in Africa seeming almost cardboard cutout. However, The Disappeared is a crime novel that’s a little different from the norm and that’s got to be something to shout about.

For more crime fiction with a flavour of Africa, try Dead of Night by Michael Stanley or Deon Meyer’s Fever.

Bloodhound Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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