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Saturday, 2 March 2013

‘Light Shining on the Forest’ by Paul Torday

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
3 January 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-297-867470

No-one knows exactly how many children in the United Kingdom go missing but experts have said that a child goes missing every 5 minutes. Nearly all of these return home or are otherwise accounted for. But not all.

In this novel three children go missing from much the same area. The first is 10-year-old Leo Constantine from a village near Kielder Forest in north-east England, once an area of desolate moorland, now  a huge patchwork of conifer plantations, where Leo’s father Georgie Nixon is a forestry worker. Several months later two young girls disappear: Becky Thomas, 9, neglected, alcoholic mother, father dead in Iraq; Karin Gilbey, also 9, much loved daughter of prosperous middle-class parents.

When Leo disappears, such efforts as the authorities are inclined to make are ineffective so his mother Mary seeks the help of Norman Stokoe, recently-appointed Children’s Czar for the North-East. He, if anyone, should be able to assist. But Norman, mentally and emotionally inert, does not want to get involved. At the same time Willie Craig is pursuing the story of Becky Thomas: as a reporter on a local paper he is fed up with covering shop openings and planning committee meetings and desperately wants a big story to enable him to break into the big time. Are the two disappearances linked? And if Willie could do a hatchet job on Norman and his apparent lack of interest so much the better.

Norman, however, has been intrigued by photographs showing marks on Leo’s forehead, hands and feet. They stir memories from his Catholic schooldays. And when another little girl disappears Norman stirs himself to search on the internet for child-abductors: all the known ones are accounted for apart from one. Information about that one should also be available but is not. Is there an Establishment/Government cover-up? At this stage Pippa, Norman’s PA, is drawn into the action; unlike Norman and Willie her main concern is for the children themselves and her moral passion drives all three, along with Leo’s stepfather, to the final extraordinary outcome in Kielder Forest.

I thought this book was remarkable and so well-written it was a pleasure to read. I am normally allergic to any mention of the paranormal in crime fiction; vampires, ghosts and zombies have no place in the genre. But the other-worldly aspects of this book are so well-handled that they do not jar, nor, for non-believers, is an excessive leap of faith required; a considerable degree ambivalence is maintained throughout.
Reviewer: Radmila May
Other books by Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce, The Girl on the Landing, The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers, More than You Can Say, Breakfast at the Deja Vu (ebook), The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall, Theo (ebook).

Paul Torday was born in 1946 and read English Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. He spent the next 30 years working in engineering and in industry, after which he scaled back his business responsibilities to fulfil a long-harboured ambition - to write. He burst on to the literary scene in 2006 with his first novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, an immediate bestseller that has been sold in 19 countries. He is married with two sons by a previous marriage and has two stepsons and lives close to the River North Tyne.

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