"Local Girl Missing" Claire Douglas
Twenty years ago, Frankie's best friend Sophie went missing in their home town of Oldcliffe on Sea, leaving just one trainer behind on a deserted, deteriorating pier. Out of the blue, Frankie, who has moved away to try and overcome her heartbreak from loosing Sophie, is coerced into returning to Oldcliffe by Sophie's brother Daniel as a body has been discovered. A body they believe to be Sophie. Finally having to confront the truth that Sophie is dead, Daniel and Frankie try to once and for all unearth the truth behind that night and at last follow up their resounding feelings that Sophie's death was not accidental. Who was Sophie with? Why was she on the pier? Did she jump? Is her boyfriend Leon hiding something? Can Daniel and Frankie ever find the closure they need?
"It's a dreary afternoon just after lunch when I finally find out that you're dead." What an opening line! Its 2016 and this is Frankie, addressing (the dead) Sophie. Daniel has informed her that they've found a body and Frankie realises she "can't delude myself anymore." Sophie isn't travelling, hasn't assumed a new identity, isn't stumbling around somewhere having lost her memory. She's dead. She disappeared from a club late one Saturday night and somehow, met her death by the pier. Death by misadventure. Frankie's fingers start to pull at her hair - a bad habit she has tried to retrain herself away from - as her feelings of grief well up inside her. Her response to Daniel's conversation reflects the depth of her trauma and the significance Sophie's death has had on her. I loved the fact all of Frankie's narrative was addressed to "you" - Sophie. This was incredibly effective!
I had barely finished the first chapter when I found myself physically settling back into my chair, tucking my legs under my knees and assuming a position in which I was not prepared to move for some time. I knew from the opening that this was going to be an excellent book. I knew from the opening that I would not be parted from this book until it was finished!
Although there seems nothing untoward or unlikable about Frankie, there is an atmosphere of foreboding from the outset. Her reluctance to return to a "town where a dark secret of the past is never forgotten or forgiven", a place she "vowed never to return", immediately creates tension. As she tells Sophie more about her current life, her comparison of her relationship with partner Mike to their new kitchen - "it's all looks so clean and new on the outside but on the inside the hinges are loose and there are cracks in one cabinet" is very revealing. Her reflection that Mike lacks the "emotional capacity to cope with me or rather my issues" and how they have too quickly (after a mere 2 months) become too "intricately bound, financially and emotionally like two threads tied in a knot" immediately alerts the reader to some deeper issues. Sophie's death appears to have had a much more dramatic impact on Frankie that possibly it should have. Why?
Douglas then incorporates extracts from Sophie's diary twenty years ago in the run up to her disappearance. I was very taken with this narrative device, hearing from a "dead" character is intriguing and very effective - if not slightly chilling. As we hear more from Sophie, I began to question Frankie's account of the friendship. The dynamics between the pair clearly more complex than it first appears. As Sophie writes, Frankie is in "some of my most treasured childhood memories; and in some of my worst." Please tell us more Sophie......Just what happened all that time ago on that Saturday night? Has Frankie's memory distorted over time? Or because Sophie died, is it impossible to remember how things really were? Is she a reliable narrator? She's a troubled soul- in her late thirties, childless, divorced, a stressful job and with a very sick parent in hospital....what effect does this have on her perspective and memory?
But what about Sophie? She is more naive, more vulnerable and more in awe of Frankie. But ultimately this is her teenage diary - can this really be any more reliable?
Douglas is unrelenting in building tension and unfailingly ends each chapter on a powerful cliffhanger. This book is captivating. If anyone is sitting next to you, they will soon tire of your sharp intake of breath every time you reach the end of the section and can barely get your fingers to turn the page quickly enough as the urgency to read on is so compelling.
As Daniel and Frankie try to revisit the past and put together the few clues and weak, unsatisfying pieces of evidence, things begin to take a more harrowing and gripping turn. We meet the dark and mysterious - possibly violent- characters of the girl's boyfriends, Leon and Jason. Frankie says if she'd known she'd be forced to see them again "I'd have never agreed to come back".........
Or what about Daniel, Sophie's protective older brother? After all, he's the one that's insisted Frankie returns to her home town and now she's here, she's haunted, chased and terrified by her past and the ghost of Sophie.
I can't tell you anymore without accidentally revealing any spoilers even though I would love to write more about the characters, the plot, the tension.... the brilliance! This book is a web of self deception, insecurities, jealousy, hatred with predatory characters. I found this book totally gripping and I really enjoyed the writing. Douglas had me completely hooked from the first page to the last and this was absolutely my cup of tea. Dark, twisted, suspenseful, complex and full of surprises. As chilling as Elizabeth Haynes, Sam Hayes, Cass Green and as unsettling as Liz Nugent and Mark Edwards.
My only tiny tiny tiny tiny reservation was about the Epilogue. Satisfying and not out of place, but for me, I wasn't totally convinced it was needed. What did you think?
I have Douglas's other novel "The Sisters" on my TBR pile. I assure you, it will not be sitting there for very long. More and more please Claire Douglas - this was a 5* read!
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.
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