How long do you hold out hope that your missing fifteen year old son will be found alive? For Claire Wilkinson, that hope has become a maddening thing after six months. C. L. Taylor’s latest thriller, The Missing, begins there, with Claire and her family preparing for one last televised appeal to the British public: Help us find our Billy.
Claire and her husband Mark sit together for the cameras, but they do not touch or look at each other. Nasty speculation circulates online: “You can tell the father’s behind it. He’s not showing any emotion.” Awkward turns disastrous when their older son, Jake, barges into the room midway through Claire’s statement, drunk and bleeding. He’s been drinking a lot lately, and his girlfriend Kira, who lives with the family, seems powerless to keep him on an even keel. While trauma can sometimes bring a family together, the grief and uncertainty of this unsolved mystery have fractured the Wilkinsons.
From this inauspicious beginning, tragedy seems inevitable. The police have run down one dead end after another, and Claire is now taking matters into her own hands. Thus begins a journey of discovery in which every new clue throws more suspicion on members of her own family. Each of them is keeping a dark secret. Each one knows something about Billy’s disappearance that they are either too ashamed or too guilty to reveal. To make matters worse, Claire begins to have terrifying blackouts as she scours her home and the city of Bristol for the truth. One soon wonders if Claire is keeping dark secrets of her own--ones she is hiding even from herself.
In between chapters, Taylor teases readers with snippets of cell phone text between two unknown usernames, Jackdaw44 and ICE9, starting six months before Billy went missing. It’s not hard to figure out that Jackdaw44 is Billy, but Taylor keeps you guessing about the identity of ICE9 as the chats grow ever more salacious and disturbing.
If family drama doesn’t inherently grab your attention, you may find The Missing a bit of a slow starter. But, those who stick with it will soon be rewarded. Each short chapter throws more coal in the fire until the train is racing full steam ahead. Taylor shows a deft hand at mixing clues with misdirection, and while careful readers may solve the puzzle before Claire does, the end is no less devastating--and no less satisfying.