“Engrossing.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
It’s the morning of Nina Landry’s fortieth birthday. She’s supposed to have her kids ready to leave for the Christmas holidays with her new boyfriend. But her fifteen-year-old daughter, Charlie, is not yet home. She spent the night at a friend’s, and now she is nowhere to be found. As time passes slower and slower by the hour, Nina’s worry builds to panic.
Has Charlie run away, or has something worse happened? And why won’t anyone—not the cops, not Charlie’s friends, not Charlie’s father—take her disappearance seriously? As day turns to night and a series of ominous revelations leads Nina from sickening suspicion to blood-chilling certainty, she comes to the desperate realization that she has no one to turn to…but herself.
“The pace and tension accelerate as the identity of Charlie’s abductor remains deliciously uncertain.”—Library Journal
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Nicci French
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Joined-Up Writing
All rights reserved.
Sometimes I still felt that I had fetched up on the edge of the world. The wintry light slanting on to the flat, colourless landscape; the moan of the wind, the shriek of sea-birds and the melancholy boom of the foghorn far out at sea all sent a shiver through me. But I stamped my feet on the ground to warm them and told myself that in a few hours I would be far away.
Rick dropped the spanner and straightened up from the open bonnet of the car. My car. He rubbed his grazed knuckle. His unshaven face was raw from the cold north-easterly that whipped over us, carrying the first drops of rain, and his pale blue eyes were watering. His curls were damp and lay flat on his head so that I could see the shape of his skull. He blew on his whitened fingers and tried to flash me his boyish smile, but I could see it was an effort.
"Rick," I said, "it's kind of you, but you don't need to do this. It was just a rattle in the engine and I thought something had come loose. I would never have called you otherwise. I can take it to the garage after we get back from holiday."
His wife, Karen, came out of the front door with three mugs of coffee on a tray, three Digestive biscuits laid out neatly beside them. She was a tall woman, almost as tall as Rick, big-boned but thin. Sometimes she looked striking, nearly beautiful, and then I could understand why the pair of them had got together, but too often she seemed gaunt and unfinished, as if she hadn't paid proper attention to herself. Her hair was brown, already peppered with grey, and pulled back in a hasty bun. Her skin was bracketed with worry lines, her nails were bitten down to the ends of her fingers. She rarely wore makeup or jewellery, except for the wedding band on her finger. Her clothes didn't quite fit together. Today it was a strawberry-pink quilted jacket and a thin black skirt that was trailing on the ground. I worried she would trip over it. She had the bossy abruptness of someone who was fundamentally shy, and once, late at night, when she was a bit tipsy, she'd confided to me that life rushed at her out of a fog, constantly taking her by surprise. Maybe that was why she often seemed to talk in nonsequiturs, and her manner often swung between sprightly sarcasm and barely suppressed anger.
"White no sugar, right? How's it going, then? All sorted?"
Rick grimaced at her in exasperation, then down at the ground on which lay the battery from my car and a couple of other parts that I couldn't identify.
A little gleam appeared in her eyes. "You said when you came back that it would only take a couple of minutes."
"I know," said Rick, wryly.
"That was before ten." She glanced ostentatiously at the watch on her wrist. "You've been out here for nearly three-quarters of an hour."
"I know that too."
"Nina's got a plane to catch." She cast me an amused smile that said, Men. I looked away guiltily.
"It's all right," I said. "I've done most of the packing for me and Jackson, and Charlie promised she'd be ready by the time I was back."
Rick's head disappeared beneath the bonnet again. There was the sound of several sharp taps and a mumbled curse. It might have seemed funny but he was so obviously not finding it funny that I bit my lip to forestall even the tiniest hint of a smile. I pulled off my gloves to pick up my coffee mug and wrapped my fingers round it, grateful for the warmth, the curl of steam that licked at my cold face.
"Christmas in the sunshine instead of this endless cold, grey drizzle," said Karen, and pulled her jacket more closely round her, shivering exaggeratedly. "What time does your plane go?"
"Not until just before six. I'm picking Christian up on the way to Heathrow."
I said it casually, but felt a small prickle of nervous happiness in my chest: Christian and I had been friends for nearly eighteen years, lovers for just a few months, and now, for two weeks, the four of us would all be together in the Florida Keys. We would be the family unit I'd thought had been smashed to pieces: going on trips, making plans, collecting shared stories that we could tell and retell later, even eating breakfast together. Except Charlie never ate breakfast: she acted as though toast was immoral. I hoped she would behave herself.
"I think Christmas should be cancelled," Karen was saying. "Eamonn has a kind of ideological objection to it anyway, and is always trying to make us celebrate the winter solstice instead, stand around a bonfire at midnight like witches. Rick tries to make us play board games and Charades and Wink Murder, even though you can't play Wink Murder with just three people, and I ..." She raised her eyebrows at me. "I'm the one who drinks too much and burns the turkey."
Rick came round to the driver's door, leaned in and turned the key in the ignition. "Right," he said determinedly. There was a hasty splutter, then silence.
"You hope you're picking up Christian," said Karen, who seemed almost pleased.
Rick pulled a face that was a caricature of confusion, anxiety and distress. This was what he did in life. He helped people, he fixed things; he was unflappably, charmingly capable. People turned to him, just as I had this morning.
"At least you've solved the rattle," said Karen, gaily, and gave a small, explosive snort.
"What?" said Rick, with a glance at her that she pretended not to see.
"The car won't rattle if you can't switch it on."
His face went a scary shade of crimson. He looked at his watch and I cast a surreptitious glance to it as well.
"Shall we just call the garage?" I suggested. "Or the AA? I'm a member."
"Well," began Rick. "It might just be —."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Karen. "You've got nothing on today, have you? Just working on your boat. Though God knows why you want to work on your boat on a day like this, and it's the first day of your holiday. You can't just take Nina's car apart and leave it like that. She's got to get to the —."
"I know. How old is this car, anyway?" Rick stared at the rusty little Rover as if it was one of his more hopeless pupils.
"About ten years," I said. "It was already quite old when I got it."
Rick gave a grunt as if the car's age was to blame for the situation.
"Can't you work backwards?" said Karen. "At least you could get it back to the way it was when Nina drove it here."
"What do you think I'm doing?" Rick asked, with effortful calm.
"Don't worry, Nina," Karen said reassuringly.
"I'm not worried," I said, and it was true. I knew that in a few hours, even if I had to get a taxi all the way to Heathrow, we'd be in the air, far from the pinched, icy days of English winter. I imagined sitting beside Christian and gazing out of the window as London became an intricate grid of orange and white lights. I raised my head and looked past Rick and Karen's house to what lay beyond.
For thirty-eight years, I had lived in a city where I could go a whole day without seeing the horizon. Here, on Sandling Island, it was all horizon: the level land, the mudflats, the miles of marshes, the saltings, the grey, wrinkled sea. Now it was mid-morning and from where I stood — facing west towards the mainland — I could see only the glistening mudflats with their narrow, oozing ditches of water where waders were walking with high-stepping delicate legs and giving mournful cries, as if they'd lost something. It was low tide. Little boats tethered to their unnecessary buoys tipped at a steep angle to show their blistered, slimy hulls; their halliards chinked and chimed in the wind. From my own house, a bit further round to the south-east, I could make out the sea. Sometimes, when I woke in the morning and opened my eyes on its grey, shifting expanse, I still wondered for a moment where I was, how on earth I'd landed up there.
It was Rory who had wanted to come, who for years of our marriage had dreamed of leaving London, of giving up his job as a solicitor and running a restaurant instead. At first, it had just been a daydream, an if-only that I didn't really share, but bit by bit it had taken on the harder edge of an obsession, until at last he'd found premises on Sandling Island and dragged his reluctant family with him to begin a new life. It was only sixty miles from London but, rimmed as it was by the tidal estuary and facing out to open sea, it had the feel of a different world, gripped by weather and seasons; full of wild spaces, loneliness, the strange call of sea-birds and sighing winds. It was even cut off from the mainland every so often, when the highest of high tides covered the causeway. From my bedroom, I could hear the waters lapping at the shingle shore, the foghorns booming out at sea. Sometimes at night, when the island was wrapped in the darkness of the sky and of the rising, falling waters, I could scarcely bear the sense of solitude that engulfed me.
Yet I was the one who had fallen half in love with Sandling Island while Rory had been driven mad by it. Somewhere in the dream of the austere restaurant decorated with lobster-pots, nets and etchings of fishing-smacks it had gone wrong. There was an argument with a supplier about the ovens, cash stubbornly failed to flow and the restaurant had never even opened. As he found himself trapped by the fantasy he'd held for so long, he no longer knew what he was for or even who he was. Eventually the only way out was to run away.
"Sorry." I turned my attention back to Karen, who was saying something.
"It's your birthday, isn't it?"
"And not just any birthday."
"Yes," I said reluctantly. "Forty. It's one of the ones you're not supposed to be happy about. How did you know?"
She gave a shrug.
"Everyone knows everything about everyone round here. Happy birthday, anyway."
"Do you really mind about it?"
"I'm not sure. A friend of mine once told me —."
"I minded," she said. "I looked at myself in the mirror, and I thought, That's you now. No escape. That's
who you are. Nothing turns out the way you expect, does it?"
"I think I'm getting there," said Rick. "Give me my coffee, will you?"
He had a streak of black grease on his jaw that rather suited him, and a rip in his jacket. I watched as he took a large gulp of cooling coffee, then posted half a Digestive after it. I had a list in my mind that I kept adding to: pack swimming stuff, goggles and sun-cream; remember the Christmas presents, including the snorkel and flippers I'd bought for Christian, who was a marine biologist yet lived many miles from the coast; some dollars; books for the plane; packs of cards. Leave out the dog food and instructions for Renata; the Christmas money for the postman, the milkman, the bin men ... My toes were getting chilly now; my face felt stiff in the cold wind.
"I've been wanting to ask," Rick moved closer to me and spoke in a low tone, "how's Charlie doing now, Nina? Are things better?"
"I think so," I said cautiously. "You can't really tell. At least, I can't with Charlie. She's quite private, you know."
"She's a teenager," said Rick. "Teenagers are meant to be private. Especially with their parents. Look at Eamonn, for Christ's sake."
"What's this?" asked Karen, moving in closer, a flicker of interest in her eyes.
"Charlie's had a rough time at school," I said. I didn't want to talk about this because it was Charlie's story, not mine. I didn't want to discuss it lightly, give it a trite meaning. I imagined Charlie's pale, truculent face, its look of withdrawal behind the turbulent fall of her reddish hair. "Rick found out about it. He talked to the girls who were bullying her, and to their parents. And to me. He was very helpful. As much as anyone can be."
"Girls can be cruel," said Karen, with a sweeping sympathy.
"She was at a sleepover at one of their houses last night," I said. "Tam's. Maybe that's a breakthrough. I haven't seen her yet. It would be a good way to end the term."
"She'll be fine, you know," said Rick, putting down his mug, reluctantly picking up the spanner once more. "Being bullied is horrible. Sometimes I think we forget how horrible it can be, how undermining. Especially if we're teachers, because we come to take it for granted, don't you think? But Charlie's a resilient young woman. Very bright, with a mind of her own and wide horizons. I always enjoy having her in my class. You should be proud of her."
I smiled gratefully at him.
"She's got all those piercings, hasn't she?"
"For God's sake, Karen, what on earth has that got to do with anything?" Rick tweaked a knob with his spanner.
"I just thought that maybe she got picked on because she seems different."
"Different? Have you seen Amelia Ronson recently? She's had her right eye half sewn together, and talking of different, look at our own son ... Oh, speak of the devil."
A baroque figure had appeared on the doorstep, wrapped in a bottle-green trench coat that almost reached the ground, bare grubby feet poking out beneath it. Eamonn had a face so pale it almost looked like a mask, although a mask that was pierced several times with rings: on his eyebrow, through his nose and ears. His eyes were Rick's eyes, but sad. His mane of tangled matt-black hair had green streaks in it. His fingernails were painted black and he had a swirling tattoo on his right forearm. He always appeared unwashed, hung-over, drugged-up and ferociously glum, though when he smiled, he looked sweet and lost, younger than his seventeen years. I knew from Rick that he was a problem-child, an all-out Goth on a small island that regarded him with suspicion or hilarity; a loner; a bright lad who felt he didn't belong. I also knew that he and his parents, Karen particularly, could hardly manage to get through a minute together without arguing. But I'd always got on with him. He liked talking to me about funny little number problems he'd come across in books — after all, I am an ex-accountant who is now masquerading as a maths teacher — and about God (or the lack of any God). And he liked being around me in case Charlie walked through the door. Mothers notice these things.
Karen looked at her watch. "Do you know what time it is?" she said.
"No," said Eamonn.
"It's gone half past ten," she said.
"Low tide's in ten minutes," Eamonn said, as if it was the most logical response. He wrinkled his face in distaste. "We're surrounded by putrid-smelling mud."
"I thought you might have got up and gone out."
"How do you know I didn't?"
"That'll be the day," said Rick, from somewhere inside my engine.
"Hello, Eamonn," I said brightly, trying to forestall another argument.
"Happy birthday." He gave an abrupt half-bow; his trench coat opened slightly and I could see he was naked beneath it.
"Everyone really does know." I laughed. Flip-flops, I thought. Remember flip-flops and the camera-charger.
"Charlie told me," he said.
"Have you seen her recently?" I began, but then my mobile sang in my pocket, an irritating jangle that Jackson must have programmed without me realizing, and I turned away from the car. He was already in mid-sentence by the time I brought the phone to my ear, and it took me a few seconds to separate out the stream of sounds into recognizable words. It was as if I had tuned in to a radio programme that was already half-way through.
" ... and if I'd known, fuck it, that you'd turn out to be the kind of mother who'd take my children away from me at Christmas and not only take them away but fly off with a man who hardly knows them to the other side of ..."
"Rory, Rory, hold on ..." I walked a few steps down the driveway.
"Just because I went off the rails a bit, does that mean I've forfeited the right to see them and they're growing up so quickly my little children only of course they're not so little any more and now there's this Christian and soon they'll stop thinking of me as their father that's what you want isn't it only you always used to say —."
"What's up?" I hated the way my voice took on a calming, gentle tone, as if I was murmuring nonsense to a scared horse, all the while wanting to slide a bridle over its head. I knew what his face was like when he was ranting, screwed up in wretched anger, an unnerving replica of Charlie when she was upset. I knew there were tears in his eyes and that he'd been drinking. "You've known for weeks we were going away. You said it was fine. We discussed it."
"At least you could have let me see them before they go," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Just for a bit, to say happy Christmas."
"That's not possible," I said. I heard a crunching on the gravel behind me and turned to find Karen making exaggerated semaphores with her arms and mouthing incomprehensible words at me. Behind her, my car's engine coughed and hacked and rasped, then stuttered into life. I held up a finger, signifying I'd only be a few seconds. I felt like a terrible hypocrite. I was having a suppressed row with Rory while making a pathetic attempt to suggest to the eagerly eavesdropping Karen that I was in a perfectly civilized discussion. "We're leaving in an hour or so for the airport."
Excerpted from Losing You by Nicci French. Copyright © 2006 Joined-Up Writing. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a very easy read. You will not be able to put it down. My only complaint about this book is that some of th eloos eends in this book are never tied up, but it is a very worthwhile read.
I finished this book in 2 days. I felt every emotion that Nina, the main character and mother, went through as she realized her 15 year old daughter was missing. Being a mother I thought the author grasped the roller coaster emotions that motherhood brings when you know your child is possibly hurt or suffering. A lot of books are predictable, but this book had me wondering up until the last page what the outcome would be. I was pleasantly surprised.
This book starts of with promise, the plot and the characters interested me as I began reading. However as the story went along it became a repeating cycle of Nina charging her cell phone,struggling with a dead car, and yelling the same tired bits with cops,and literally running all over town all day, I wanted to tell Nina to sit down and shut up by the first half. Despite this the plot really did have promise enough to keep me reading. But I was confused with to many loose ends and characters with no purpose such as a boyfriend we never meet, and a cousin, a married lover,the list goes on...and so many questions never resolved, the least of which being why the suspect did what he did -this really needed explaination because it made no sence to me at all. And was Charlie really in trouble? What was the creepy deal with her father? we will never know. save your money go to your local library for this one. sorry but Nicci French got sloppy.
On Sandling Island, England, divorced Nina Landry raises her two children, fifteen years old Charlie and Jackson. Nina is looking forward to a Christmas vacation in Florida with her boyfriend marine biologist Christian and is pleasantly stunned when he and others arrange a surprise fortieth birthday party for her.---------------- However her joy turns to concern when Charlie fails to come home from a teen pajama party. Not only is this out of character for her daughter, but Charlie also promised to help pack for the Florida trip, a vacation the teen was looking forward to. Nina goes to the police, who provide her with platitudes about teens and nothing else just like friends and family did earlier. Each minute that passes with no news is like a nuclear bomb exploding in her stomach, but nothing except helplessness and fear happen.---------------- This tense thriller is told predominantly by Nina so that the audience sees her dread grow rapidly and out of control because she is frustrated and fears the worst. Fans especially parents will empathize with Nina, as she not only prays for the safe return of her daughter, she offers deals to the Lord to make it happen. This is a winner from Nicci French as Nina¿s life goes from joy to terror in a short span.------------- Harriet Klausner