This debut novel, nominated for the Man Booker Prize, is part mystery, part ghost story, and altogether wonderful.
The story begins in O’Flynn’s hometown, Birmingham, England, in 1984. The heroine is Kate Meaney, ten-year-old private eye. Kate’s interest in detective work is rooted in a fondness for film noir she shares with her father. When he dies, her amateur sleuthing helps her remain connected to his memory. Kate is a shy, serious, singular child, and her only friends are eccentrics and outcasts. There’s Adrian, the adult son of a local shopkeeper; Teresa, the girl who sets new standards for naughtiness when she transfers to Kate’s school; and Mickey, the plush monkey who accompanies her on stakeouts at the local mall. Kate’s grandmother—who becomes her guardian when her father dies—wants Kate to go to boarding school, but Kate has other ideas. The narrative shifts to 2003. The mall where Kate followed suspects is still there, but now the action revolves around Kurt, a security guard, and Lisa, an assistant manager at a record store. Neither is happy at work, but these dead-end jobs are just symptoms of a more general malaise and paralysis. Both Kurt and Lisa are immobilized by tragedy, and both become obsessed with a little girl Kurt sees on a security camera one night—a little girl with a plush monkey peeking out of her backpack. This is, ultimately, the story of Kate’s disappearance and the people transformed by it. It’s also a mordantly funny depiction of the contemporary retail workplace. And it’s a romance. These pieces should not fit together, but they do. O’Flynn is able to capture a character or a scene with a few perfect details, and she seems to possess an uncanny, ennobling sympathy for her characters.
Heartbreaking, hilarious and immensely rewarding.