Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 March 2021 from Bookouture
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
‘A little girl is missing from under her mother’s nose. She’ll be scared and vulnerable – if she’s still alive. But no one is helping us search. No one wants to give us information. No one even seems surprised. What’s going on?’
Detective Bernadette Noel came to this quiet rural corner of south-west England from London to lie low after a high-profile prosecution led to death threats against her family. But she has barely settled in when the call comes. A woman’s voice, shrill with terror and thick with tears: ‘Help – it’s my daughter, Molly – I only had my back turned for a minute… She’s gone!’
A child abduction is about as far from lying low as it gets, and her boss wants to assign a different detective. But there’s no way Bernie’s not taking the case – she can’t miss this chance to prove herself.
Five-year-old Molly Reynolds has been snatched from the playground in the village where she lives. Normally in cases like this the community is an asset – eager to help search and full of local knowledge. But although Molly’s mother Jessica is in anguish, the other villagers don’t seem to want to know.
As details emerge, Bernie discovers a possible link to a shocking crime that has never been solved, and which the locals have never forgotten. But what exactly is the connection to Molly’s abduction? Cracking a cold case is the only way to find out – and meanwhile time is running out for Molly.
Last Seen is Joy Kluver’s debut novel and on the strength of this book I am really looking forward to reading more of this series.
Detective Bernadette Noel was on a fast track programme with the Metropolitan Police when a case she was working on forced her to leave London. Now she is in rural Wiltshire and keeping a low profile so as not to attract attention. She’s achieved her promotion to Detective Inspector and suddenly finds herself in charge of a case that is as awful as it is puzzling. A 5 year old child has disappeared from a children’s playpark in the small village of Otterfield and it looks like abduction.
There’s no obvious motive, but one thing is really strange. As you’d expect, Bernie is organising house to house questioning and search parties to look for little Molly – but it’s clear that no-one in either her village, nor the neighbouring one, want anything to do with the police investigation.
Bernie is puzzled. Apparently Molly hadn’t made any friends at school either. Her mother is at a loss as to why she might have been taken and is distraught. She doesn’t know why the village is so unfriendly.
Largely told from Bernie’s perspective, Last Seen presents a convincing portrait of an intelligent police officer in charge for the first time and seeking to solve a serious case into the bargain. Bernie is still grieving for her grandfather, recently laid to rest, and with a lot on her plate her confidence is not reassured when her boss tells her that she may not yet be ready to command such a high-profile case.
Joy Kluver does a great job of introducing us to the investigations team of Detective Sergeant Kerry Allen and Detective Constable, Matt Taylor with whom she is already establishing a great relationship. There’s a fly in the ointment though when her boss foists on her a new team member, DS Dougie Anderson, transferred in from Birmingham and who is hardly in the door before he starts doing things his own way instead of taking his orders from Bernie. That’s the last thing Bernie needs on this case and she has to work hard to keep him in line. Not only that, but it looks like the force’s Press officer for the area is no ally and is pushing Bernie to accept her view of how she should handle the public facing side of this disappearance.
When her boss tells her that if she doesn’t get results soon he is handing the case over to a more experienced officer, Bernie is determined that her team will find Molly before that happens.
The imposition of a deadline adds urgency to an already pressing case and as Bernie and her team race against time to work out who has taken Molly and why, we get a real sense of D.I. Noel’s shrewd and extremely capable thinking processes. She’s not flawless, but she is a good detective and that comes across as she handles this investigation.
As the team battle to find Molly the tension is high and there are many false leads and wrong paths to go down. As Bernie comes to realise that the silence of the villagers is a clue to what has happened to Molly she has to re-think her whole understanding of this case if she is to find Molly before it is too late.
Though perhaps a little slow to start as Kluver establishes the scene and her characters, the pace and tension ramps up mid-way through the book and holds the reader’s attention well and there are many pieces to this puzzle which all fit neatly together in the end.
There’s a great deal we still have to learn about this team and their backstories before they become fully fleshed, but that just adds to the intrigue in this book and makes us want to read more about the team. Joy Kluver drops just enough nuggets of information to make us curious and want more.
Verdict: A strong start to a new police procedural series with well thought through puzzles and characters that intrigue. I really enjoyed reading this knotty case and am actively looking forward to the next in the series.
Joy Kluver has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. More recently she’s been escaping the madness of motherhood by turning her hand to crime novels. A book blogger, she’s also part of the First Monday Crime team and if you’ve been to any of their events it’s likely you’ve eaten one of her cookies. She also organises author talks for her local library. Joy lives in SW London with her husband and three children. ‘Last Seen’ is her debut novel and the first book in the DI Bernadette Noel series.