Scottish first-novelist Forsyth depicts four adults blighted by a childhood catastrophe who later, in middle age, find things falling apart once again.
On a July day 34 years ago, 13-year-old Lindsay set off down the beach and was never seen again. Moving among that defining moment, the subsequent years, and the present, Forsyth is most successful when detailing personal relationships, less so when attributing significance to the mysterious disappearance. Though hints are dropped along the way, the truth is revealed only at the end when it no longer seems to matter: by then, those involved have since developed more urgent problems. Lindsay’s cousin Annie, six at the time, was spending the summer with her brother Alistair at the High House on the Scottish coast. Lindsay’s two brothers, Tom and Jamie, were also there. Now in their 40s, they have been affected in different ways: the men, who resented Lindsay’s bossiness, feel guilty for not having stopped her wandering off; Annie, married to schoolteacher Graham and unable to get pregnant, obsessively mourns Lindsay and her own infertility. But when 15-year-old Rob, Alistair’s son, arrives suddenly from England, matters begin to change. While Annie delights in mothering Rob, Graham, tired of her emotional neediness, begins an affair with Jan, a fellow teacher. Jamie’s wife, career woman Ruth, gets pregnant and threatens to abort the baby. Tom, still living in High House, is trying to forget Meg, the married lover who has just ended their affair. Annie, still close to her cousins and not realizing her marriage is in danger, revisits High House with Rob in tow. Shortly afterward, Ruth undergoes an emergency hysterectomy, Annie confronts Graham, and Rob disappears. As the cousins gather to search for Rob, they are finally able to discuss what actually happened to Lindsay and their own roles in her disappearance.
Despite clumsy foreshadowing, a sensitive take of defining family ties forged in childhood by tragedy.