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Posted on 30 Apr 2024 in Crime Scene, Fiction |

BM CARROLL One of Us is Missing. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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In BM Carroll’s latest crime novel, one family’s celebration turns to disaster as a teenager disappears amid a crowd of concert-goers.

The Sullivan family feels like a loving unit, perhaps because Rachel’s brush with breast cancer made them closer, more aware of what they had. Or at least that’s how it might seem to an outsider. Within the family, there are the sorts of tensions that go with a life-changing diagnosis, a failed business, teenagers being teenagers, and the none-too-subtle change of dynamics that can come with any upheaval.

So tickets to a stadium concert by Coldplay are a chance for a treat. Rachel hadn’t been able to book four seats together though, so Emmet and Bridie are on the field and Rachel and her husband, Rory, are in the stands. Nothing unusual or particularly reckless about that scenario, it happens all the time. The kids are nearly 18 and 15 years old, and there’s a crowd of happy, celebrating people around them. Yet right from the outset, Rachel’s uneasy. It’s only as the story starts to expand that you realise everyone’s experiencing their own private unease about a range of things, which, mostly, the others know nothing about.

Here’s Rachel:

She sat on the bed and tried to regain her enthusiasm for the evening ahead. Her brother-in-law was only one of her problems. She was still rattled after the confrontation with Nico this morning. The shock of seeing him there, in the supermarket carpark. The realisation that he had tailed her all the way from home. …

The other looming problem was yesterday’s conversation with Dr Petrakis. There was an anomaly in her recent blood results: her platelets, to be more precise. Apparently, it could mean something or nothing. For the sake of tonight, Rachel determined, it meant nothing.

Rory:

To be fair, Rory was jumpy and watchful, too. It had just occurred to him that the noisy, heaving crowd provided the perfect camouflage. Was it possible they were being followed? Should he have confided in Rachel about the trouble he’d got himself into? He clenched his hands before jamming them into his pockets. So many secrets for a couple who had once told each other everything.

Emmet:

Emmet took a long glug of beer and allowed the bickering and chatter to wash over him. He’d missed his friends these last few months. He’d missed the banter, the company, the security they offered. But he’d changed too much to just slot back in. Yeah, he was here, talking to them and all, but he didn’t quite fit. And he hadn’t entirely forgiven them either, if he were honest.

Bridie:

One of Amy’s earlier messages had implied that Bridie’s parents were having a difficult time. Bridie had assumed it was because of Uncle Sean coming to stay. Now, she began to second-guess herself, which was one of her specialities along with visualising worst-case scenarios. Was something more serious going on with Mum and Dad? Mum’s cancer returning. Or divorce. At school she regularly heard about parents splitting up. It was nearly always out of the blue.

Adding to the family’s complications, Rory’s brother Sean has moved in. An alcoholic with a list of problems as long as your arm, he’s untrustworthy, and the source of a lot of tension between Rachel and Rory. Amy, on the other hand, is an old friend and Bridie’s godmother. But she’s clinging, manipulative and starting to make herself very unwelcome. Nico is the man Rachel flirted with, slept with once, and then tried to back away from. He’s turned into a stalker and quite an intense one. Meanwhile Rory, whose business went bankrupt right at the time that the family’s fortunes started to dive, is getting threats after an accidental discovery on a worksite puts him in the firing line of a very dangerous man.

There are a few names and relationships to get a handle on as One of Us is Missing unfolds, as well as switching timelines as the events that led up to the current blow-up are filled in. Everything initially happens at rapid-fire pace, with the intensity already high before the search for a missing person begins.

The night of the concert, though, they all seem to be working hard to put everything behind them. Instead, things go from bad to absolute worst, with Rory and Rachel getting into an open argument about the affair, and her resentment – of his failed business, of his brother – boils over. Although it’s Rory who does a dummy spit, stomping off to a bar at the stadium.

Rory was already squeezing past the other people in their row, muttering ‘excuse me’ as he went. He took the concrete steps in long angry strides; Rachel watched until he was out of sight, realising that this was inevitable. Of course his instinct would be to retreat, to be alone while he came to grips with the enormity of her betrayal, to organise his thoughts, his next steps.

Meanwhile Emmet is trying to keep tabs on Bridie in the crowd, and she’s trying very hard to tee up a meeting with one of his friends. Bridie’s best friend has recently discovered boyfriends and a social life, and Bridie’s feeling very left out and left behind. She’s dressed to impress tonight, and determined to take things forward with Fitz. And then she vanishes.

As she entered the tunnel that led to the inside of the stadium, someone bumped hard against her shoulder and didn’t even apologise. The toilets had a few girls who looked like her: overheated and dehydrated. Bridie refilled her water bottle and drank thirstily. She used the loo, and then fixed her hair and make-up as best she could. Her reflection was fuzzy in the mirror, and she smiled wryly at herself.

She sent a text as she left the bathroom. Here.

The sheer panic that forms as the family realise they haven’t all made it back to the nominated meeting point, exacerbated by the individual reasons they all have for feeling it’s everyone else’s fault this has happened, complicates everything from here on in. In the search the police are helped, then hindered, by the remaining family members. Emmet alone sticks it out at the rendezvous point for as long as he can, his guilt at not looking out for his baby sister overwhelming and terrifying to deal with. Meanwhile his parents, meaning well but being utterly hamfisted about it, interfere with the search, go off half-cocked at potential suspects, and generally flail about. On the upside, it forces them to confront their more toxic relationships – and Sean and Amy both bear the brunt of some pointed responses to their behaviour. Whether or not they survive as a family unit – you’ll have to read the novel for yourself to find out.

It’s not all thrashing about though, there are eventually a few glimpses of hope – reported to the police, and followed up quickly and quietly by them, and some incredibly brave behaviour by a confused and terrified young girl. The ultimate perpetrator and the reasons for the crime are sordid, and while the motivation is, sadly, not that shocking, the perpetrator is.

It was interesting to read in the publisher’s press release that the author conceived the idea for this story after arranging for her own family to attend a U2 concert in similar circumstances – kids on the field, parents in the stands. She claims that after spending the whole concert running worst-case scenarios in her head, she then used that feeling of fear when writing the novel.

The manner in which she has tapped into that fear, and developed a chilling, all-too-believable scenario is, on reflection, a really sad indictment of the direction this world is going. To think that you’re not safe anywhere, and that the reasons for that are so banal, so self-serving and so matter-of-fact, could make you question the direction of the human race.

BM Carroll One of Us is Missing Affirm Press 2024 PB 368pp $34.99

Karen Chisholm blogs from austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.

You can buy One of Us is Missing from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW or you can buy it from Booktopia.

You can also check if it is available from Newtown Library.

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