A divorcé’s 5-year-old daughter vanishes during a weekend visit, turning his apartment neighbors into suspects in Southern’s (Killing Sound, 2014, etc.) thriller.
A Britain-based man, whose first-person narrative never reveals his name, has been living in a flat since his divorce, his likewise unnamed daughter with him Friday through Sunday. The protective father keeps his daughter close, so he’s understandably upset when she slips onto the elevator alone when he’s momentarily distracted. He quickly heads to Minus One, the elevator’s designation for the basement and a button-selection that fascinates his curious daughter. The girl’s not there, and the police have no luck finding her. One officer, however, claims there are signs that someone else was in the basement, so that the girl isn’t merely lost—someone’s likely abducted her. Suddenly the neighbors in the man’s apartment building, most of whom he recognizes only by sight, are dubious and potential kidnappers. It isn’t long before police are arresting some of the same people the man’s passed by on the stairs. But the worried father may not be what he appears. He’s been lying to authorities and, he shamefully admits, to his readers as well. He’ll have to decide if maintaining his secret is the right way to go, or if it’ll simply make things worse. Though the story’s mystery is sound, the author’s true focus is the narrator. He’s an intricate, multidimensional character whose initial sympathy readers may find waning as the story progresses. He can be insightful; he’s “always on the defensive” for fear people of differing ethnicities will construe anything he does as racist. Other times, though, he’s outright offensive, asserting women in general “need the constant bolstering and ego inflation to compensate for the lack of collagen and silicone.” A shocking twist happens about a third into the novel; it’s best left unspoiled and demands a reexamination of the girl’s disappearance (Southern smartly plays the scene a second time). But the protagonist is riveting throughout. The unsavory atmosphere, too, retains tension, primarily the recurring scene of the seedy basement, where all the tenants dump their trash via chutes.
An enthralling tale, but the genuine mystery involves the protagonist, a spellbinding enigma from beginning to end.