“In the absolute quiet, … I glimpsed the sky above, and I could feel darkness starting to push in as surely as fire creeps
across a piece of paper, curling its edges, turning it to ash.
In that moment, I knew that Ben wasn’t there.”
Ben is the eight-year old son of Rachel, and sole child of her former marriage to John. Rachel felt she had to protect him at every moment, but allowed him to experience one moment of daring: running ahead to a rope swing, only to realise he was gone as she arrived there.
This novel is told in memories, via interspersed chapters from the point of view of Rachel, notes on child abduction advice found online by Rachel’s sister, and of D.I. James Clemo, the prime investigator of Ben’s abduction case. The case has haunted Jim for a year, and he is ordered to attend sessions with Force Occupational Health Service therapist Doctor.
The novel provides more than just details of the case investigation, movements and possible motives of potential suspects. There are some surprising, even gut-wrenching reveals of Rachel’s family life and upbringing, of her and John’s marriage, of Jim’s partner in an affair with a fellow investigator.
The strain on Rachel (as she seems always to be caught on camera or film when in a distressed state) leads to a vicious trial by social media, with news vultures constantly crowding her home and vandalistic attacks on her home. These lead her to shut down and retreat.
While suspects are questioned, checked, and released, Rachel reads through Ben’s exercise books from school, and notices something significant to a possible lead, and fights against ‘standard procedures’ to get her thoughts across to James’s team. Through her self-protective daze – a whirl of confusion – she still manages to pick up a word – one single word which could turn the case completely around. The least suspected person in Ben’s life is apprehended, while waiting for a flight out of the country. The child is found, but will not allow himself to tell what has happened to him, leaving us to wonder, and Rachel to wait until he is ready to talk.
This for me was a one-day gripper to read…and as it fascinates, it also allows us to review our parenting. Should we protect from possible harm, or encourage possible discovery –which is the better choice for our children?
Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street
Burnt Paper Sky
by Gilly MacMillan
Published by Piatkus, via Hachette NZ