DCI Jonah Sheens has been a cop for more than 30 years & heads up the station in Southampton. Between cases, management & meetings, days off are hard to come by. As the book opens he’s enjoying a rare chance to cycle in the hills until his phone rings. A body has been found near a campsite in New Forest. No clues, no witnesses. No problem. Jonah knows who it is.
Thirty years ago, he was a fresh faced newbie who joined the search for missing 14 year old Aurora Jackson. Her sister Topaz was camping with 5 of her friends, unhappy about being saddled with her baby sister. After a night of drinking, they crawled out of their tents to discover Aurora’s cold & empty sleeping bag. The alarm was raised & cops, friends & neighbours combed the area for days to no avail. The 6 teens were questioned endlessly but Aurora was never found.
In the present, Jonah mounts a new investigation after getting the autopsy results & his team of 3 detectives get to work. They can’t help but notice their boss is a tad antsy. For Jonah it’s not just another case. Turns out he went to school with these people although he was never one of them. They were the cool kids, the ones everyone wanted to emulate. As the investigation progresses, long suppressed memories come flooding back & Jonah begins to worry what his team might uncover.
That’s it for the plot. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible so your jaw drops in all the right places. The story unfolds in 2 alternating time lines & both are engrossing. The past is narrated by Aurora & she’s a compelling character. Through her eyes we meet the 6 campers as teens & get caught up in all their angst, drama & petty jealousies. In the present we meet them again as they deal with Jonah. Some have changed, some haven’t. The difference is they may finally be ready to spill the secrets they’ve been keeping for 30 years.
I thoroughly enjoyed this. In some ways it reminded me of “Everything You Want Me to Be” by Mindy Mejia. There’s something about small towns & the intense relationships formed (or not) in high school. Everything is heightened because the world is so small at that point in a teen’s life. Each member of Topaz’s “golden” gang is integral to its survival & I’ll bet more than one of them will remind you of someone you knew at that age.
The detectives are also well portrayed & Jonah’s team are an interesting group. DC Juliette Hanson comes across as being wound a bit too tight & we gradually find out why. DS Domnall O’Malley is the calm voice of reason & experience, a deceptively low key guy who misses nothing. And then there’s DC Ben Lightman. Self contained & fastidious, he made me think of the old adage about still waters. I’m willing to bet there’s more to him than an analytical mind & pretty face. As for Jonah, he’s a decent man in a tight spot. You can’t help but sympathize with him as he struggles to maintain a professional distance in a case that is so personal. It’s clear he has some memories he'd rather forget & I dreaded what might come out.
But it’s Aurora who steals the show. I found her captivating, a girl on the cusp who comes across as so authentic you can almost hear her voice. She’s at the age where she’s letting go of childhood & plagued by the insecurities & shaky self esteem that afflict so many young girls. But she also has an ethereal quality that sets her apart, completely unaware of her allure.
All is revealed by the end & Aurora can finally be laid to rest. And the 6 who were there that night will never be the same. As for Jonah…well, he has to deal with some ramifications of his own. It’s a book you’ll resent having to put this down & I look forward to book #2.