Missing, by retired judge James Stewart QC, reads like an episode of Midsomer Murders updated for the 21st century; this is no bad thing. There is a straightforward plot with the disappearance of a key character, as one might anticipate from a book with this title. It does not matter that the characters are caricatures, fleshed out with just enough detail that is required for their roles. While there is no deep analysis of personality, preconceptions or motive, this is not necessary in a short but gripping read that keeps one guessing to the very end. Further, the brief characterisation is deftly done, and conjures up possible inhabitants of a modern-day sleepy village in North Yorkshire effortlessly.
There are some fond and lyrical observations about the region, and about cricket, which appear entirely incidental to the action. While no doubt reflecting the pride and affection of the writer for his home, they were also slightly distracting. This did not stop the book from being a real page turner. Reading this at court, such is the life of a busy barrister, I groaned when it was time for the start of each day, so engrossed did I become with the narrative. The trial is covered in all the detail that only a barrister or judge would include – or want to read – and this certainly helps the tension mount. One wants to know the outcome and what the jury decides.
The ending when it came was unexpected and included the promised twist. There were lots of small questions that remained unanswered but none that troubled one unduly when justice was clearly done. More unexpected was the pondering of the justice system and the role of juries at the end of the book. It would have been better placed as a spoken observation of a character on screen (hence, a cracking modern-day version of Midsomer Murders or something longer than needs to be seen on screen); as it was it jarred slightly in a novel where what the characters think is never really explored. Nonetheless, overall, definitely worth reading.
Reviewer: Melissa Coutinho