Review published on March 5, 2014.Reviewed by Verity Butler
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
Young bohemian artists Harry and Robin are a young married couple living in Tangier with their young son Dillon when their lives are devastated by an earthquake. Left alone in their flat whilst Harry popped to a neighbour, Dillon appears to vanish without a trace and is assumed dead.
After losing their son Harry and Robin relocate back to their home city of Dublin in an attempt to rebuild their marriage and move on from the tragedy, a feat easier said than done considering the great resentment Robin feels towards Harry for leaving Dillon unsupervised, and the existing problems that dominated their marriage even before the earthquake.
The main story picks up five years after the loss of Dillon. Their relationship is still fragile, but Robin is hopeful for their future, and so is Harry, until he sees a boy in a crowded Dublin street. A boy he recognises immediately as his missing son.
The Boy that Never Was is being compared to the kinds of psychological suspense novels written by leading authors such as Nicci French, Sophie Hannah and Gillian Flynn. With this in mind, I sat down to read with high expectations. These expectations were met in some aspects- the plot of the book is very fast paced and exciting, with twists that definitely rival Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
However, I did initially have trouble getting into the flow of the writing. The narrative is told from the point of view of both Harry and Robin, in alternating chapters. This in itself doesn’t usually present a problem for me, however, I found Harry’s chapters very dry and often boring which was disappointing considering a lot of the main plot happens directly with his involvement, and therefore during his chapters. At times, I felt I only continued reading because of the strength of the plot, and because I found Robin’s chapters much more engaging.
With psychological suspense novels authors have to balance a fine line between being enigmatically mysterious, and being downright confusing. I found the first 50 pages of this novel sometimes wobbled over into the latter a bit too often.
I have wondered whether this disjointedness I experienced was the result of the book being a product of two authors, rather than one (Karen Perry is the pen name of respected authors Karen Gillece and Paul Perry). I’m always intrigued when I hear of author teams like this, and fascinated to know how it works. I don’t know how they wrote this book, but I did at times get a sense of two distinct writing styles fighting against each other, rather than working to complement each other.
In spite of this minor issue with getting into the flow of the story, once the plot picked up pace I couldn’t put the book down. I thought I had it all figured out by half way through the story, but then everything changed and I was completely blind sided. I was gripped right to the end because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I really dislike it when authors think up a very clever and intricate plot and then leave a lot of loose ends for the reader to assume their own ending, and this story did the complete opposite of that. I was left feeling very satisfied that the plot made sense, the actions of the characters all made sense and the story was rounded off nicely.
I urge you to do what I did with this book- curl up with a cup of tea and read it in one sitting. Allow yourself to be absorbed in the drama and then take days to get it out of your thoughts.