BOOK REVIEW: Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas

Local Girl Missing
By: Claire Douglas
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 18 June 2016
Format: Ebook, 368 pages

Twenty years ago
21-year-old Sophie Collier vanishes one night.
She leaves nothing behind but a trainer on the old pier –
and a hole in the heart of her best friend Francesca.

Now
A body’s been found.
And Francesca’s drawn back to the seaside town she’s tried to forget.
Perhaps the truth of what happened to Sophie will finally come out.
Yet Francesca is beginning to wish she hadn’t returned.
Everywhere she turns are ghosts from her past.
The same old faces and familiar haunts of her youth.
But if someone knows what really happened to Sophie that night then now’s the time to find out – isn’t it? (Goodreads)

A novel about the limits you’d go to if your best friend had vanished, Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas aims to explore how a small community is affected by the disappearance of one of its own.

Sophie Collier disappeared twenty years ago, with the local community believing that she fell off the old pier after trespassing one night. All that was found of her was a trainer and now, all these years later, a foot has washed up on the beach which is believed to be hers. This new discovery has led her brother, Daniel, to call our protagonist, Francesca. Frankie has moved on with her life and gone into the family hotel business, taking on a chief executive role following her father’s recent stroke. She has made something of her career, but her private life is in tatters as her husband left her for another woman when they struggled to conceive.

Frankie is reluctant to come back to the town, being uncomfortable with everyone knowing her business and tying her to the past she has tried to forget. However, she feels like she owes Daniel and packs a bag, wanting to honour the memory of her best friend. She tells him upfront that she will only stay for one week, knowing full well that he always harboured a crush on her when they were younger. Not that she is planning to take advantage, but Frankie would rather not be interviewing faces from the past, and also wants to keep her own secrets hidden.

Together, they consider who might have had a motive to harm Sophie and who might know something about her last movements. Of course, the police have already covered these lines of investigation when she first disappeared, so Frankie does not hold out much hope of finding any leads, and thinks Dan is chasing shadows. However, when Frankie becomes a victim of hateful messages and her car being egged, she becomes convinced that someone is following her and doesn’t want her to discover the truth. Could there actually be more to this mystery than Frankie had anticipated?

I enjoyed how this book explores the effects of the disappearance so many years down the line, as it reminds you that for those affected it can never be forgotten. This is particularly true of Daniel’s vehement desire to find the truth, frequently trying to encourage Frankie to stay in town and help him. She is hesitant to see old faces more than anything else, with everyone having judged her for coming from a wealthy family and believing her to be stuck up and spoilt. Even Daniel often refers to her as Lady Frankie, and it is a constant reminder that even after twenty years there are still those that know her past and that she can’t escape it, as much as she can’t escape the memory of Sophie.

I thought that Frankie was a somewhat contradictory character from the off, as she is always on the fence about whether or not they should be poking around in Sophie’s case or leaving well alone. If she loved her best friend as much as we are led to believe, shouldn’t she be more determined to find out the truth? It was elements like this that led me to be very unsure about Frankie’s narration and how much we could trust her, as she is more preoccupied with her own life and keeping her own secrets than she is about helping Daniel. At heart, she is incredibly selfish and manipulative, even if she doesn’t necessarily mean to be. For example, she has always known about Daniel’s crush on her, but it is only when he announces that he has someone that she takes more of an interest. It is as if the world can only revolve around her, and she cannot handle all this attention being dedicated to Sophie.

In dealing with Frankie and her mood swings, I thought Daniel had the patience of a saint and gave her a lot more credit than she really deserved. He is convinced that retracing their steps on that fateful night will lead them to the truth, and at the same time is prepared to protect Frankie from whoever has it out for her with the cryptic messages and vandalism. Even though he claims to have someone of his own, he still comes running whenever Frankie asks him to, and tries to pretend that he doesn’t feel anything for her anymore. However, even Daniel’s perfect brother routine grows suspicious, as Frankie starts doubting him and wondering whether he might also have some skeletons in his closet.

As this book continued I found that I started to doubt every character and saw lies and secrets everywhere, not knowing whose perspective to trust. This worked well in building up tension, but it was hard not having any sense of stability, especially when Frankie was quite a shaky narrator. I did think that the actual mystery was concealed very well up until the end, as I had not fully come to a conclusion about what had happened, and could not have anticipated the depth of events that occurred in the past. All of the loose ends were tied up by close of play, making this a tightly structured thriller from an author whose works I can’t wait to read more of.

VERDICT
A well structured thriller which leaves you doubting everyone and everything, this book explores the effects of a disappearance and potential murder on the residents of a small seaside town. It demonstrates that even after twenty years the past can still catch up with you, and that such secrets can never stay hidden. With a somewhat unreliable narrator and an exciting series of plot twists, this is a thriller to put straight onto your reading pile.

 

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