James Delargy – Vanished (Blog Tour)
Published by Simon & Schuster, hardback £14.99. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
First, the official blurb: The Kane family, Lorcan, Naiyana and their young son, are desperate to move their young family far away from the hustle and bustle of modern city life in Perth. The abandoned town of Kallayee, an abandoned mining town in the Great Victoria Desert, seems like the perfect getaway: no-one has lived there for decades. It will be peaceful. Quiet. Secure. But life in Kallayee isn’t quite as straightforward as they hope. Lights flicker at night. There are noises in the earth, mysterious shadows and tracks in the dust as if their presence is breathing new life back into the long-dead town. Lorcan and Naiyana refuse to leave. No-one can talk sense into them. And now, no-one can talk to them at all. They’ve simply vanished. Now it’s up to Detective Emmaline Taylor to find them, before it’s too late…
Vicarious travel is always welcome, more so in these lockdown times, and even more so when it involves Australia, a country I fell in love with on a six-month trip back in 2004. In particular I treasure my memories of the Outback and Western Australia, so a novel set in a deserted goldmining town “near” Perth is always going to pique my interest.
We open with Detective Emmaline Taylor, travelling an arrow-straight road to Kallayee on the hunt for a family who had moved to this remote, abandoned town from Perth, then vanished a short time later. The isolation and harsh environment are laid before us in the first pages – Emmaline’s directions to the family’s home aren’t map references, she has to take a left at the dead kangaroo. Black humour and horror all in one sentence.
We switch narrators between Emmaline, in the present, and Lorcan and Naiyana, parents of six-year-old Dylan, in the recent past as they arrive in Kallayee. There are hints at why they are here: “For safety. A temporary solution.” And: “As soon as the Perth carnage had blown over, she would want to return. But he had plans.” They find a home – an abandoned house in marginally less awful condition than all the other abandoned houses of the town – and unpack. This is home, for now. For six weeks of the school holidays. Maybe 12 weeks, to let everything cool down in Perth.
On the first night, Dylan is frightened by mysterious underground rumblings. It’s not just a kid’s imagination, all three hear the noises, night after night. Eventually they find out the source of the noise…
By the time Emmaline arrives and meets the local cops, the family haven’t been heard from in ten days. Their vehicle is missing, the house has been ransacked and there is blood on shards of a smashed mirror, which is Naiyana’s prized family heirloom. It’s officially a missing persons investigation, but no-one on the team seems particularly confident the three will be found safe and well.
Short, choppy chapters switching between points of view keep the pace up, flipping between the family trying to settle in their new home and Emmaline making some grim discoveries during her investigation. The characters’ weaknesses are to the fore much of the time; fractures that already existed between Lorcan and Naiyana becoming deep divisions under the pressure of the move and the isolation of their new home. They are frequently unlikeable, but always compelling even in their most manipulative moments.
The background to the family’s flit is sketched in, but their time in Kallayee take precedence in the plot. I wasn’t always convinced by the motivations for the characters’ various actions, and Emmaline’s character is a bit hit-and-miss: her investigative skill and professionalism are a hit; the scenes connected to her ethnicity and her personal life more of a miss due to a lack of nuance, though the ideas are absolutely valid. The final scenes, which take place away from Kallayee, also stretch credulity somewhat. But the strong forward motion of the twin timelines keeps the pages turning, and as the two collide and we see exactly what is at stake and what has happened, there is plenty to satisfy. And the ending is, I felt, totally fitting.
Vanished is a standalone that veers towards the high concept side of things and for me doesn’t quite hit all the marks it’s reaching for. But the characters fascinate even as they sometimes repulse us, and the classic noir underpinning – people making bad decisions and having to deal with the consequences – combines with a setting so alien, so uncompromising and so perfectly deployed and described you can’t help but be gripped.
In the Outback, there are many things that can kill you – heat, insects, the physical landscape. But Vanished is a reminder about the most dangerous creatures around: people.
James Delargy was born and raised in Ireland and lived in South Africa, Australia and Scotland, before ending up in semirural England where he now lives. He incorporates this diverse knowledge of towns, cities, landscape and culture picked up on his travels into his writing. His first novel, 55, was published in 2019 and has been sold to 21 territories to date. Vanished is his second novel.