The (fictional) subject of grooming and targeting girls on the internet for sex is getting dangerously close to cliché, unfortunately. There’s hardly a TV thriller any more than doesn’t hinge on some form of child abuse, and – important subject though it is – it can feel just a wee bit hackneyed.
So when I started Chris Longmuir’s Missing Believed Dead, and entered the world of a mysterious, creepy man driving his van from Manchester to Scotland to meet ‘Jade’ for a cyber date, I must confess my heart sank a little – for the wrong reasons. Despite the taut scene setting and the quality of the writing, I feared I was in for yet another harrowing but essentially unsurprising trawl through the expected.
Wrong. Jade was indeed a victim, and white van man sure as hell hadn’t arranged to meet her to have a chat about any problems she might be having at school. His vehicle was bursting with the required gear. Mattress, eye-bolts welded to the floor, black-out, the lot.
And when both the innocent young lady and the dirty old man ended up together in the back, something very nasty did indeed happen. There was a corpse, with beads jammed into the eye sockets. Jade beads. Jammed in with violence and intent. Jammed in by Jade, though, not the man.
Next day however – next moment for the reader – the boot is suddenly on other foot, the more usual one. This girl is called Megan, and she is young, blonde, beautiful. She is laid out on a rug on a floor of dirt, and part of her ponytail has escaped and spread across her face. The worst is about to happen. As it had happened to another girl, another victim of this man.
This book, set in Dundee, in Scotland, is many things, and proceeds in several interlinked strands. By chapter three it has turned into a police procedural, with officers struggling to unravel the startling mystery at its heart. But it is also about families, and appalling loss, and it is not afraid to delve into the misery that crimes like this, and the revenge that follows, must bring.
There is another book about the same detectives, Kate Rawlings and Bill Murphy, and I hope there will be more. It is gripping, thoughtful stuff.