Lost You

Written by Haylen Beck

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.

Lost You
Harvill Secker
RRP: £14.99
Released: 27 June 2019

The title signals suspense, the first pages enhance it to such an extent that the reader quails at the prospect of the doom-laden pages to be endured before resolution. On the other hand, the author may fall at the next fence.

One approaches Chapter Two then with resignation – to encounter a character with whom one is warily familiar: Libby, a debut novelist with an unhappy childhood and a broken marriage behind her. Now she’s on her own with a three-year-old son: a perfectionist with an ingrained inferiority complex, doing everything by the book.

Encouraged by her agent to take a break she checks in at a Florida hotel: a tall complex, with balconies and pools and unmanned escalators, all potential death traps for active small boys, and this hotel is surely the same one where at the start a woman was about to jump from a high balcony with a child in her arms?

And Ethan escapes, successfully riding an escalator alone when his mother’s distracted. Initially the ensuing search is harrowing enough but far worse when it transpires that the boy has been abducted. Suspense mounts excruciatingly until the abductor is cornered, and turns out to be a woman. She is quite mad, and refuses to release Ethan on the grounds that she is his mother.

It’s a shock ending to the first section of the book and now the story reverts to a time four years ago. It involves surrogacy and the terrible consequences when a surrogate mother refuses to give up the baby which she has contracted to bear. The situation is vastly exacerbated in this context where the agency concerned is operating outside the law, and with enforcers on the payroll.

The back stories of the few principle characters are absorbing, and those characters are not merely strong, they’re powerful. Many good creative authors may tend to favour one gender over another but not Beck. You might think, because he leads with the neurotic, obsessive Libby, to continue with Anna, the indomitable surrogate, and Betsy, her staunch ally, that this is an author monopolized by women. But no couple could be more engaging (and well-rounded) than the gay partners at the Florida hotel. And then we meet Mr Kovak.

Like Villalobos, Head of Security at the hotel, Mr Kovak is a strong man, but flawed. As literary figures they balance out. Because Mr Kovak needs to be balanced: he is so real, so exquisitely layered, it is doubtful he can be termed a villain. Empathy works overtime and one can understand him totally while condemning his sins.

This is basically a domestic book yet the emotions aroused in the reader are more intense than any reaction one might have with a traditional crime novel – indeed one is more shaken than after any noir, whether script or screen. With the last sentence of Lost You you’re left breathless. A superb read.

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