Rachel Jenner, her 8-year-old son Ben, and their dog Skittles are in a Bristol, England park when Ben asks if he can run ahead to the rope swing. Rachel, wanting Ben to feel confident and independent, says okay. So Ben and Skittles dart off.....and disappear. A massive search by police and civilians finds an injured Skittles and Ben's clothes, but not the boy - and the cops conclude that Ben's been snatched. And Rachel's (and her ex-husband John's) nightmare begins.
Detective Inspector Jim Clemo is assigned to lead the investigation, which pleases him. He hopes that finding Ben and catching the perpetrator will give him a boost in the police department. Jim's even confident enough to suggest that his (secret) girlfriend, Detective Constable Emma Zhang be assigned as Family Liasion Officer (FLO).
Told in retrospect, the story is narrated by Rachel and Jim, in alternating sections. There are also excerpts from e-mails, books, a blog, and newspapers as well as reports from Jim's police-appointed psychologist.
In child abduction cases the parents are always suspects, and Rachel and John are questioned. Moreover, Rachel continues to be (surrepticiously) scrutinized by the FLO. Other possible persons of interest include other family members, neighbors, people in the park that day, employees at Ben's school, shop owners who knew the boy, and so on. Or a stranger may have nabbed the child. So the police have their work cut out for them.
As often happens in kidnapping cases Rachel and John are asked to participate in a press conference, to appeal for the child's return. Detective Clemo provides Rachel with a carefully worded script, meant to help the abductor give Ben back. Things go seriously wrong, however, and Rachel - disheveled and wild-looking - ends up pointing at the camera and threatening the abductor.
Apparently this is a huge mistake. Clemo is upbraided by his superior for not prepping Rachel properly, and Rachel becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the public. Thus she's hounded by the press, a nasty blogger, vandals, and the general public. Even worse, the blogger has inside information about the investigation. Uh-oh....there's a leak.....
As the investigation proceeds a family secret is revealed, a local pervert is pursued, a 'medieval re-enactor' who was in the park won't cooperate, people lie, alibis turn out to be false...and the investigation drags on and on.
By the time the case is resolved Rachel's life has changed dramatically and Detective Clemo - who feels he should have done better - suffers from anxiety and insomnia.
I liked the book. It's a suspenseful page-turner and I was eager to see how things played out. On the down side, the plot has too many kidnap/mystery story clichés and one of the 'big reveals' is not believable. I also don't accept that Rachel's behavior at the press conference would make her seem guilty (she's a scared, hysterical mother after all). I feel like the author tried too hard to include sensational elements in the story, and they ring a false note.
Overall, an enjoyable mystery book, recommended to fans of the genre.
Rating: 3.5 stars