Review: Vanished by James Delargy


Title: Vanished

Author: James Delargy

Published: 5th May 2021, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

“A family was missing. They had been in the town and then they weren’t. What they were even doing therein the first place wasn’t yet known. No one should have been there. No one had for close to fifty years.”

James Delargy has followed his impressive debut novel, 55, with another compelling thriller set in Australia’s unforgiving outback, Vanished.

Tasked to investigate the disappearance of the Maguire family, Lorcan, his wife Naiyana, and their six year old son, Dylan, from Kallayee, an abandoned town on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert, Major Case Squad Detective Emmaline Taylor is puzzled by what she finds left behind – a home on the brink of collapse, its contents ransacked; blood smears, though not enough to suggest a fatality; a tunnel littered with chocolate bar wrappers, a dead end, like all their leads seem to be, until she finds a body being savaged by a pack of dingo’s on the outskirts of town.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, shifting between before and after their disappearance, it soon becomes apparent that the Maguires left Perth to set up home in the remote West Australian ghost town not in the spirit of adventure, but because they had few alternatives available to them.

Though the Maguire’s tell themselves they are in Kallayee to become closer as a  family, the cracks in their marriage are obvious. They lie to themselves as much as they lie to each other and eventually neither Lorcan nor Naiyana are particularly sympathetic or even likeable. If not for the presence of Dylan I’m not sure I’d care much what happened to them. I liked Emmaline a lot though, she’s smart, determined and interesting.

Clever plotting ensures there are several possibilities, from the benign to the ominous, that may explain the family’s disappearance. Even though we are privy to information Emmaline is not, Delargy doesn’t share everything with the reader, subtly undermining what we think we know, allowing for surprising twists.

Short chapters ensure a good pace, and the author effectively builds the suspense in both timelines. The desolate, broken landscape creates a claustrophobic, hostile backdrop to the story that adds to the tension.

Vanished is a gripping, atmospheric thriller with an unexpected but satisfying conclusion.

++++++++

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Review: 55 by James Delargy

 

Title: 55

Author: James Delargy

Published: May 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019- courtesy Simon & Schuster

 

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Having raced through the compelling story told by James Delargy in 55, I almost threw it against the wall when I read the last sentence (after double checking there were no pages missing).

“‘He wanted me to be number fifty-five,’ the man spluttered, looking Chandler squarely in the eye for the first time. He shivered and squeezed his eyes shut.”

On an ordinary morning in the remote Western Australian town of Wilbrook, a bruised and bloodied man stumbles into the police station with a horrifying story to tell. Identifying himself as Gabriel, he claims to have have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Gabriel tells Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, is Heath, a short, stocky man with a deep tan, brown hair, a beard, probably about thirty years old.

Just a few hours later a local man marches a bruised and bloodied stranger into the police station at the end of his gun after being caught attempting to steal a car. It’s obvious to the Sergeant that this stranger is the man Gabriel described as his captor, and he moves to arrest him, but is stopped cold when Heath claims to have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Heath tells Jenkins, is Gabriel, a tall, slim man with a deep tan, stubble chin and a soft voice.

“One of them, and only one of them was the true victim and the killer was piggy-backing their story. There was no other explanation.”

It is an intriguing and original hook, with both men claiming to be the victim of the other, and the possibility that as many as 54 more victims could be buried somewhere on the outskirts of town.

Single father Jenkins, and his small staff- young rookie Nick, the ambitious Luka, second in command, Tanya, and reliable Jim- are perhaps a little out of their depth in this situation. They make a few errors at the outset, which adds to the excitement, but one innocuous mistake in particular will come back to haunt the Sergeant.

Given the potential for the case to become a sensation, the investigation is quickly appropriated by Jenkins’ immediate boss, and former friend, Inspector Mitch Andrews. The last case the pair worked on together as rookies, involving a missing person, is recounted In a series of flashbacks, going someway to explaining the animosity between the two men.

Delargy’s main characters are well crafted and nuanced. Chandler’s easygoing nature contrasts with Mitch’s self-aggrandising behaviour, much in the same way that Gabriel appears to be the antithesis of Heath, yet as the story progresses,the author subtly develops details that adds depth to their characters.

The author maintains an effectively unsettling atmosphere through the novel, where the uncertainty, anxiety, and animosity experienced by, and between, the characters is underscored by the heat and isolation of the environment.

“On he drove through the undergrowth, pursuing the echo of his cries but never catching up. He pushed on harder because he was panicked and he pushed on harder because of the tears streaking down his face. He didn’t want anyone to see his hurt, immersing himself in the trees, dirt and despair…”

Delargy does an outstanding job of pacing in this novel. Tension ebbs and flows unpredictability as the plot twists and turns. I raced through the pages, finishing it in under three hours, desperate to learn the truth.

Oh, but that ending! I still can’t say I’m happy about it, but neither, it’s important to note, can I say that it was disappointment.

With an arresting premise, a riveting story, and a provocative conclusion, 55 is an impressive crime thriller debut novel from James Delargy.

++++++

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