It’s every mum’s worst nightmare. On a hot, summer’s day, two-year-old Jessica Preston vanishes from the beach. Although her mother, Sandra, knows she has been abducted, the police are less than convinced, preferring to think that she has drowned. Twenty years later, Sandra still clings on to the hope that her daughter will be found, and her faith is renewed when she is approached by a journalist, offering to get her story back out into the public domain. When the journalist uncovers a huge cover-up, she realises that someone will stop at nothing to keep the secret of Jessica Preston hidden for ever.
You would not think that this is a debut novel, such is the storytelling and the characterisation. I was drawn in from the start as the retelling of the story starts from the perspective of Sandra and the new ‘father’ of the taken child. Instantly, I felt nothing but despair and sadness for Sandra, and admired her tenacity for never toeing the party line with regards to the whereabouts of her daughter. I willed her to, one day, get the news that she had been longing for – the discovery that her daughter had, indeed, not drowned. The new ‘father’, however, I could not believe how quick he was to accept the child that his wife had brought home.
I also instantly warmed to Laura, the journalist intent on finding out the truth, despite the danger she was putting herself in. Although I did, at times, wish that she had the sense to tell someone about the case, especially when her life begins to be threatened, this would have meant that the terrifying chase near the end of the book would probably not have happened. Although I can’t detail this chase in case I give away some spoilers, it is safe to say that this is one of the most terrifying parts of the book that had me on the edge of my seat!
Like most books of this genre, we are growing accustomed to a twist that completely wrong-foots you. As a result, I did find myself anticipating what the twist would be and I was surprised when I did have it worked out! This did not affect my enjoyment of the book, in any way, however – if anything, it gave me more to think about as I was reading.
This is a fantastic debut and I look forward to following the rest of Darren Young’s career.