Here and Gone by Haylen Beck | An intense thriller

Haylen Beck delivers a tense thriller about an isolated mother struggling to find her children before it’s too late.

Leaving behind an abusive husband, a young mother packs her belongings into an old station wagon. Then, taking her young children she sets out on a journey to start a new life. As she travels from New York through Arizona, Audra Kinney half expects someone will follow her. She’s understandably nervous so she sticks to quiet, back roads but the journey is long and the car is hot.

Stopping for water at an isolated gas station, she spots a police car parked on the forecourt. Although she’s done nothing wrong, the sight of the car makes her nervous. She buys the water and plans to stop off overnight when she reaches the next town. It’s just a few miles away and both she and the children are ready for a rest. Back in the car, with no sign of the police, she resumes her journey. But then she notices the police car following her and when Sheriff Whiteside pulls her over, Audra’s nightmare is about to begin. In the blink of an eye she finds herself in a jail cell with her children missing. Isolated and with no one to call on for help, she must battle corrupt authorities to find her children before it’s too late.

Here and Gone is not just tense, it’s intense. From the first page, Haylen Beck had my heart racing. I felt both too scared to continue reading and too scared to stop. In the event, I read on until 300 pages later I  reached the end in a single sitting.

This is good, old-fashioned storytelling with a strong plot, believable characters, tension, drama and a fast pace.  If you don’t mind being scared, it’s a cracking read!

Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner is the second in a crime fiction series featuring Detective Manon Bradshaw. It is set in Cambridgeshire, where Manon who is 42, single and pregnant, lives with her 12-year old adopted son, Fly Dent. They are relatively new to the area and Fly is attending a new school. They moved because Manon was in search of better work life balance. Living with them are Manon’s sister Ellie and Ellie’s son, Solly.

Manon’s role is to investigate cold crimes. It’s not an exciting job but it suits her while she’s pregnant.  However, when a new murder investigation points towards Manon’s family members, she can’t help but get involved.

The story begins when a wealth manager, Jon-Oliver Ross bleeds to death in the arms of a woman who claims not to know him. The woman says she came across Ross by accident while walking her dog in the woods. Trouble is, Ross died from stab wounds, there’s no dog, and it’s not clear what either of them was doing in the woods in the first place.

When the police open an investigation, Manon discovers that Ross is  Solly’s father. Worse still, Fly is a suspect but there’s little Manon can do to help him because she’s not allowed work on the case. So, she calls on a lawyer friend, Mark, and together they set about proving Fly’s innocence. In the process, they find out a lot more about Ross’s connections and lifestyle. Some of this is dangerous and uncomfortably close to home for Manon.

Complicated plot

Susie Steiner delivers a nicely complicated plot in Persons Unknown but there are a lot of characters and it takes a while to get to know them. This is partly because the narration switches between different points of view. I would have liked more back story on Ellie and her relationship with Jon-Oliver and on Manon. That said, if you read Missing, Presumed you might not need it as much. Despite this criticism, the plot is interesting and holds attention well with nice, short chapters that make for a fast and easy read.

The Wall Street Journal included Susie Steiner’s earlier novel Missing, Presumed in their ten best mysteries of the year. Having read Persons Unknown, I will keep an eye out for future titles in this series.

Disclosure: I read an uncorrected proof copy provided by Harper Collins.