(The podcast version of this review is below, you can find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the top this page and a shot video review at the bottom.)
Somehow, the last novel by Lisa Jewell I read was Ralph’s Party, released in 1999. If it sounds like a 90s British rom-com then you wouldn’t be far off. It focuses on a 3-storey house in London and the residents who get entangled in different love triangles.
The Night She Disappeared on the other hand features a mystery kicked off by an anonymous sign stuck in the ground saying “dig here” that may be linked to a teen girl who goes missing at an old mansion called The Dark Place.
If they sound like they can’t possibly have anything in common then that would be an understandable mistake. As much as The Night She Disappeared is a tense and suspenseful thriller that grabs your hand and pulls your breathlessly through page after page; it is also a fascinating character study.
Sophie has moved in with her very new boyfriend (older, separated, two kids) as he takes up the position of Head teacher at a private school in the leafy village of Upfield Common in the Surrey Hill. It comes with a house on the grounds where Sophie is hoping she will be able to continue writing her detective books. Clue and pointers adorn the page like you’d imagine bunting would adorn the village square in the fictional village for the annual fete. I love all this. If you were watching this on TV you’d be narrating loudly to anyone in the room (or like me, tweeting) “See? She’s not convinced about this move. Something not right about them two.”
The novel then switches between present day (2018 in the novel) and the previous summer. Teenage parent Talluah lives with her mum, and when she and her boyfriend Noah don’t come home from an impromptu party with friends, her Mum sets off - baby in tow - to find out where she is. We then switch back to the present day where Sophie is warned about the old abandoned house in the woods. At this point I am already IN. But then we go back to meet Tallulah before she goes missing and find out why she might not want to stay with her boyfriend - her baby’s Dad - and who is Scarlett, the hell-raising girl at her school.
Part teen YA-ish drama, part Miss Marple-esque pastoral whodunnit, and part slightly psychological thriller, The Night She Disappeared seems ready made to be a big summer TV series with cliffhanger endings to chapters and a plot that compels you to try and figure it out for yourself. If you ever watch the long distance Olympic runners, you get to marvel at how they judge the pace so perfectly, never forced or running out of gas. This is the literary equivalent. You propelled through chapter after chapter with enough left for that sprint finish to the end and you can collapse the book and take a breath.
And if that’s all that The Night She Disappeared was, you would be delighted to have it entertain you as you blitzed through it. But you lucky readers get so much more. Like a Christmas cracker that actually has something useful inside and not just a crap joke, Lisa Jewell gives you the bang for your book and then provides something to keep hold of.
I said you might not see what this book has in common with the rom-com debut Ralph’s Party but getting you to want to spend time with a bunch of people and follow their relationship is a skill and it’s one that is carried on here with aplomb. We don’t just get a well drawn and interesting lead character with flaws and desires that clash. Nope. We get four fascinating women who are all battling internal and external demons. They are so well drawn and we are given such insight into them that even the drama heightens and we get to the point where with a less skilled writer you might say “what? No chance!” with Jewell it makes perfect sense.
Having the four character’s perspectives also gives us different angles on the various mysteries. Oh yeah, there’s not just the mystery of Tallulah’s disappearance. That one mystery is the Russian doll of mysteries in this book and out pop ever evolving other mysteries.
What is up with Scarett - Tallulah’s new rebel friend?
Why is that house called The Dark Place and why is it abandoned?
Who’s leaving clues for Sophie and why is she not telling her boyfriend about what’s going on?
Look, you’ll just have to read it - trust me, it won’t take you long. I recommend not starting it at night otherwise it will be The Night You Disappeared into a book and didn’t appear until dawn.
Biscuit rating: Chocolate Malted Milk.
My biscuit rating? Chocolate Malted Milk.
Addictive. Delicious. I’m shocked if others don’t love it. More please.