Four stories involving disappearances fail to come together in this exceptionally confusing first novel from the British Hogg.
World-famous star Billy K, last seen on an English cliff top, has been missing for more than a year. The lead detective on the case, Jim Dent, frustrated and desperate, goes missing himself, in Australia. In the Australian outback, an English motorcyclist, Cal Smith, has gone missing after a crash. In the desert, he discovers a journal. It had been written in 1834 by a Fijian, Naqarase Baba, who had stowed away to London; the journal describes his return to Fiji ten years later, a convert to Christianity, one of a group of missionaries. His journal entries take up the lion’s share of the novel, along with Dent’s off-the-record sleuthing, which will take him to Kenya but will prove, back in England, to have been a wild goose chase. There are also flashbacks to his teenage past, when he did time for a carjacking and wrote a book behind bars. So Hogg rotates his five story lines, which produce occasional heat but no light. Dent stays one step behind his quarry; Cal, leg broken, expires slowly in the desert, while writing a long letter to his French girlfriend (all these guys are writers); Naqarase flees into the Fijian jungle when an English missionary, his nemesis, turns cannibal. Billy K, the stereotypical rock icon hungry for sex and drugs, stays out of sight, though it was his reading of the journal (the circumstances are murky) which set everything in motion. What these characters have in common are rotten childhoods, which explains Dent’s identification with Billy. Yet after all the hullabaloo comes the revelation, shocking in its banality, that there’s nothing quite like spending quality time with Mom. Oh yes, there’s also sensational news about Billy’s manager and Dent’s cop boss, but enough is enough.
A novice author’s chameleon antics can’t distract from the hollowness of his story.