Once I got through the slightly clumsy opening paragraph, set in London and designed to establish the main character, Paula Maguire as an expert in missing persons, and she returned to her home town in Northern Ireland to join a new task force to trace people who have disappeared over the years, I slipped easily and totally into the audiobook version of ‘The Lost’. The cadence and the structure of the speech took me back to the way my father and grandfather spoke. The history, bloody and painful as it is, was familiar to me. I’ve never spent time in a Northern Ireland border town but Claire McGowan quickly had me feeling as if I knew it well – how small it is, how long people’s memories are and all the things in its history that people would like to forget.
If you’re looking for a book that weaves some of the unpleasant parts of the history of Northern Ireland, the sectarian violence, the Magdalene Laundries, keeping abortion illegal when it was legal everywhere else in the UK, the presence of Christian Evangelical cults and the reputation of the RUC for corruption and bias, then you’ll find it all in ‘The Lost’. Claire McGowan weaves these threads into Paula Maguire’s history and into the disappearances that she’s investigating.
If you’re looking for a strong police procedural novel, then ‘The Lost’ isn’t it. It requires a significant suspension of disbelief to see Paula Maguire, a consulting forensic psychiatrist, do more of the investigating that the police officers around her. Of course, that made for a more exciting story and Claire McGowan provided some credibility based on the structure of the inexperienced task force, the absence of a senior officer for much of the story and Paula Maguire’s ill-judged and inappropriate relationship with her boss.
If you can roll with that and get engaged with the characters and the town then the story will sweep you along and give you twist after twist until all is revealed.
‘The Lost’ is the first of what is now a seven-book series about Paula Maguire. I had fun with it and I’m certainly up for reading the next one and seeing where Claire McGowan takes it.
Claire McGowan was born in Rostrevor, County Down, and now lives in London.
She’s the author of a seven-book crime series, set in Northern Ireland, featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, starting with The Lost (2013)
She has also published five standalone crime novels. She writes women’s fiction as Eva Woods.
She runs the UK’s first MA in Crime Writing, at City University, London.