|CLOSE TO HOME
Eight-year-old Daisy Mason goes missing from her Oxford home during a party to celebrate the end of the school year. When DI Adam Fawley arrives on the scene he finds parents who seem to be more worried about how they’ll be seen by their neighbours than by the fact that their daughter is missing, and Daisy’s ten-year-old brother, quiet and withdrawn. As Fawley and his team investigate, the landscape of the enquiry changes rapidly: neither mother nor father tell the same story twice, and it soon becomes clear that Daisy probably wasn’t even present at the party from which she supposedly disappeared. As time passes, Fawley becomes convinced that he’s now leading a murder investigation, and it’s looking increasingly likely that one or other – or both – of Daisy’s parents knows more than they’re saying.
In a case like this – a kid – nine times out of ten it’s someone close to home. Family, friend, neighbour, someone in the community. Don’t forget that. However distraught they look, however unlikely it seems, they know who did it. Perhaps not consciously, and perhaps not yet. But they know. They know.
Cara Hunter’s debut novel presents us with a case that could have been ripped from last night’s headlines. It’s a story we’ve seen all-too-often in recent years: the case of the disappeared child, the young girl who goes missing from under her parents’ noses. All-too-often DI Adam Fawley’s gut reaction is right, too: it’s someone the child knows behind the disappearance, a parent, a neighbour. So as Close to Home opens, Hunter delivers a gut-punch that seems all-too-real: Daisy Mason has disappeared, and no-one seems to know how, or even when, it happened. From the outset, it’s difficult for the reader to warm to Daisy’s parents. Her father cries too readily, and her mother is more worried about her appearance – not to mention the cleanliness of her home – than about her missing daughter. As Fawley and his team gather evidence, we hear some damning testimony about Mr and Mrs Mason, none of it designed to put us in their corner.
Fawley is an engaging character and, unusually in this sort of novel, probably the character with whom we share the most empathy. Fawley has lost his own son, though the details remain sketchy, and along with his Superintendent, we find ourselves wondering if he’s the best person to lead this enquiry. But there’s a certain something about him that gives us some confidence that there’s no-one better to be fighting Daisy’s corner. With a smart team who work well together – DCs Verity Everett and Chris Gislingham and acting Sergeant Gareth Quinn – it’s clear that Fawley has the brains and the support to get the job done. He’s direct, outspoken and unafraid to ask the tough questions, regardless of who he might upset, a breath of fresh air in a genre populated by surly alcoholics and disillusioned washouts.
If I have one complaint about Close to Home, it’s that it’s almost too much for the reader to bear. As the investigation continues, it becomes clear that Daisy’s father is a liar and a cheat. Evidence comes to light that he is in possession of hardcore child pornography, which raises the question of abuse. It’s an intense and difficult read, particularly for a parent, but it’s handled well by the author. This is an examination of why the parents are so often the focus of this kind of investigation, and it’s an obvious avenue for the story to explore. Daisy’s mother doesn’t come off any better, seeming cold and detached, to the point where she almost seems relieved that her daughter has disappeared.
As well as looking at the crime itself, Hunter examines the public reaction, and the outside perception of the investigation. Through news reports and social media feeds, she shows how quickly the parents come under scrutiny, and how quickly they are convicted in the mind of the public. There are Twitter exchanges that may seem over the top, but will be instantly recognisable by anyone who uses the platform. It’s a relatively new area of concern in criminal investigations, but Hunter shows how it impacts the investigating team, and prejudices those involved, from the police to the witnesses, to the victims themselves.
Cara Hunter’s debut novel is a lightning fast read that barely lets the reader settle in before moving the goalposts at every possible opportunity. An intense read that requires concentration and thought, it’s designed to keep us on our toes and barely gives us time or space to step away for even the briefest of pauses. The man at the story’s centre, DI Adam Fawley, is a welcome addition to the genre of police procedurals, a man unafraid to speak his mind and get to the truth, however difficult or uncomfortable it turns out to be. Hunter is an accomplished storyteller with an excellent understanding of how to manipulate the audience to her own ends, and is sure to become a household name with a couple more novels under her belt. The perfect team, Hunter and Fawley, are on my watch-list, and Close to Home should be on yours.