I'm always curious, and sometimes a bit apprehensive, about reading debut authors. Mind you, I probably shouldn't be, as they've obviously passed through some rigorous and nail-biting vetting before they get this far. And in this case, Sarah Ward is probably as well qualified as anyone to write her first crime novel, as she's been reviewing (on www.crimepieces.com) and judging the genre professionally for some time. Anyway, I was intrigued by the blurb for this one and thought why not.
This story, like many others -- pretty much the norm these days -- takes place in two time-frames. The primary one is the present day, but there are passages where we are briefly in 1978, when a mysterious and tragic abduction took place. Two little girls on their way to school were picked up by a woman in a car. One of them, Sophie Jenkins, was never seen again, but the other one, Rachel Jones, was found a few hours later wandering and confused on the road. She was unable then to give an account of where they had been taken, or what had happened to Sophie, and has never been able to recall any more about the events of that day.
Back in the present day, Rachel is now a genealogist, helping people trace their ancestors. She has coped with her past trauma by thinking about it as little as possible. But when two events take place a couple of days apart -- the suicide of Sophie's mother, and the murder of Penny Lander, a woman who taught the two girls at school -- it's clear that there's a link to the past, and Rachel starts to investigate, and slowly to recover some memories, of 1978. The police are also involved, and though everyone seems sometimes to be working at cross purposes, the truth gradually emerges.
I'd like to say that I guessed the denouement, but I didn't, though I thought I had -- a tribute to Sarah Ward's skill with red herrings, I suppose. In fact genealogy and family relationships are fundamental to the way everything works itself out. I must say I got a bit confused by the need to keep track of two separate families, the Jenkins' and the Landers', not to mention various mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I wished there's been a family tree or two attached, but of course that might have given too much away.
The characters are attractive -- perhaps we will meet DI Sadler and his feisty little sidekick DC Connie Childs in a further novel. Rachel was interesting, well-observed, and likeable despite her occasional defensive prickliness. I whizzed through rather fast, and passed an enjoyable few hours. Easy reading for a hot summer's day.