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Wednesday, 25 September 2013
‘The Second Life of Amy Archer’ by R S Pateman
ISBN: 978 1 4091 2856 4
Every mother has been there: one moment your child is right under your protective eyes, you dare to look away and the next moment she’s gone: vanished without trace. Usually they turn up, though that doesn’t lessen the nightmare feel of the minutes they’re missing. And for a few, that nightmare continues for years, sometimes for ever..
I can’t begin to imagine how it would feel if my child was still missing after ten years – but R S Pateman, who I was amazed to discover isn’t a mother at all but a man, has made a terrific job of getting under the skin of a mother in exactly that situation.
The Second Life of Amy Archer sets off at an emotional pitch so high that the first mystery is how the tension will ever be ratcheted up and what else can possibly go wrong for Beth Archer, whose ten-year-old daughter Amy disappeared on Millennium Eve, from a park just minutes from their beautiful south London home.
What does go wrong is that Amy comes back, on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance – looking exactly the same as she was that night.
Or possibly not. Probably not, I hear you scoff. And yes, you may need to suspend disbelief a little further than usual in order to get the most out of this remarkable debut novel, and set aside at least some of the natural scepticism, or at least questions, which surround phenomena such as clairvoyance and reincarnation.
The extraordinary events which follow Amy’s reappearance are another nightmare for Beth, as, already teetering on the edge, surviving with minimal support, and desperate to learn the truth, she is left wondering what to believe and who she can trust.
It’s a dark and sometimes harrowing read, a novel to admire and appreciate rather than enjoy. Crime as entertainment it isn’t; I failed to detect any humour or even the odd lighter moment in nearly 400 pages. But it does have the factors which make up quality suspense fiction: strongly drawn characters to love or hate, bags of atmosphere, a powerful narrative drive. To Pateman’s great credit, it fascinates, in a relentless, insistent way. Written in the first person and present tense, it swept me up and pulled me into Beth’s mindset, and wouldn’t let go until the final gasp-inducing page.
Don’t read it expecting a neat and tidy ending with all questions answered; in some ways, it raises more doubts than it allays. But do read it if you value suspense, psychological drama and the kind of fiction that makes you question your view of the world and plays tricks with your mind.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning.
She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.