|LITTLE BOY FOUND
L.K. Fox (http://www.christopherfowler.co.uk/)
As he does every morning, Nick drops his son at school. As he is pulling away from the school gates, he is involved in a minor collision with a car that doesn’t stop. Nick acts quickly, snapping a picture of the receding car on his phone so that he can read the license plate later. When he gets home and enlarges the picture, he sees something completely unexpected: Gabriel, his son, is in the back of the car, being driven away by a stranger. Now it’s up to Nick to find him and bring him home.
It’s a nice hook, that moment of shock as we realise that Nick’s son is not in school, that he has, in fact, been snatched from right under his nose. Beyond that point, though, the story goes in a completely unexpected direction, and becomes something other than the psychological thriller that the reader thinks they’ve signed up for. It’s difficult to talk about much more of the plot without introducing spoilers and, let’s face it, I want you to be as surprised as I was when Nick phones his husband to tell him their son has been kidnapped; his husband’s response is what lifts this from the realms of “haven’t I read this a million times before?” into the realms of the unknown and the unexpected.
The identity of LK Fox goes some way towards explaining this original streak, as it’s the pen name of the mind behind the adventures of Bryant & May and some of the finest horror novels the ‘80s and ‘90s ever witnessed, the one and only Christopher Fowler. This is Fowler’s first foray into the world of psychological thrillers, but as a writer with almost thirty years of experience under his belt, there’s little here that is likely to cause him any trouble.
The central storyline of Little Boy Found is based around Nick and his estranged husband Ben, a pair whose relationship, as we learn more about them, seems to have been doomed from day one: Ben seems less than comfortable with his status as one half of a same-sex couple, and even less comfortable with Nick’s determination to ensure that everyone knows that they are married and refers to them accordingly. This tension comes to a head when they are dealing with the homophobic detective assigned to find their son, so that their subsequent estrangement is not much of a surprise. Ben, we learn, has been married before, to a woman who cheated on him and left him to care for a son who, we later learn, the couple adopted when he was a baby.
Intertwined with this narrative is the story of Ella, a young girl who falls for an up-and-coming musician, finds herself pregnant after he rapes her, and ends up in psychiatric care, determined to keep her child at any cost. Fox focuses on the horror in Ella’s life, and leaves us in no doubt that she is mentally unhinged, and in no fit state to care for herself, let alone an infant, so it’s no surprise when her son is placed with adoptive parents.
The characters are what drive Little Boy Found, what make it such an interesting read. This is helped in no small way by the constant feeling that Fox is always one step ahead of us, ready to pull the carpet from under our feet, which he takes great pleasure in doing on several different occasions. This is edge-of-the-seat fiction at its very best, a thrilling plot line that manages to stay ahead of the reader until the very last page. There is no doubt that we are in the hands of a master storyteller, and there is little chance of us second-guessing where this story will take us. All of which makes for an excellent read, even if there are one or two convolutions that stretch the bounds of disbelief a little too far.
If I have one problem with Little Boy Found, it’s nothing whatsoever to do with the novel’s content, but with the fact that Quercus will be producing this one only in ebook format; the perfect poolside read, and you’ll need to take your Kindle with you to read it.
That minor gripe aside, I can’t help but recommend Little Boy Found unreservedly. I have long been a fan of Christopher Fowler, and his experiment with psychological horror is as eminently enjoyable as any of his Bryant & May mysteries, and as frightening (if for much different reasons) as his horror and dark fantasy novels. Probably only surpassed this year by Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes in the surprise ending stakes, Little Boy Found is a taut and beautifully-constructed thriller that will keep you engrossed until the very last page. Its biggest selling point is its originality, and its ability to surprise, so do yourself a favour, and read it before someone spoils it for you.