Local Girl Missing – Claire Douglas

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8/10. I don’t get the significance of the flowers in relation to this particular book, but great standard crime novel cover.

“Twenty years ago: 21-year-old Sophie Collier vanishes one night. She leaves nothing behind but a trainer on the old pier – and a hole in the heart of her best friend Francesca. Now: A body’s been found. And Francesca’s drawn back to the seaside town she’s tried to forget. Perhaps the truth of what happened to Sophie will finally come out. Yet Francesca is beginning to wish she hadn’t returned… Everywhere she turns are ghosts from her past. The same old faces and familiar haunts of her youth. But if someone knows what really happened to Sophie that night then now’s the time to find out – isn’t it? Except sometimes discovering the truth can cost you everything you hold dear – your family, your sanity and even your life…”

I loved Claire Douglas’ The Sisters, so when I spied her new book, Local Girl Missing, on NetGalley, I didn’t hesitate in downloading it. As with her first novel, the book centres around two girls – protagonist Francesca, who has created a new life for herself after moving away from her claustrophobic old town, and Sophie, who went missing twenty years ago and whose dead body has supposedly just turned up. In the present day, Francesca heads back to her hometown to help Sophie’s brother Daniel identify the body – and as soon as she does she feels the vices of her old life returning to oppress her.

Whilst simultaneously glad to be away from her current life – away from the very fresh break-up she’s just left, her father in a post-stroke comatose state, and a demanding job that barely gives her pause for breath – Francesca doesn’t relish returning to her old life. Her discomfort in being back is mirrored by the difficulty she has traversing the streets of her old town in stiletto boots, the only pair of shoes she’s brought back with her.

As we see Francesca increasingly enjoy getting closer to Daniel, someone who used to have feelings for her, we’re simultaneously taken down memory lane with Sophie’s recollections of growing up and her old best friend Francesca coming back to town after being away for years. As the truth about Sophie’s life comes to the fore – a relationship with an old flame who’s still in the seaside town, Leon; a clash with Leon’s dangerous, older brother Lorcan – we start to see a portrait of Francesca being drawn; a glamorous, beautiful girl who seems to have it all but who, at her root, seems insecure and slightly manic. We read secondhand how Sophie and Francesca’s relationship starts to crumble after Sophie meets Leon and they start a relationship, despite Francesca’s warnings and claims that Leon used to stalk her. At the same time, someone Sophie has always known and trusted grows closer and closer to her, starting off as a source of comfort but becoming more and more threatening, until Sophie isn’t sure who she can trust – right up until her untimely death after she falls off a pier…

As Claire Douglas teases the denouement of Local Girl Missing out, everyone’s character, motive and circumstance on the night of Sophie’s premature death – even Francesca – comes into question. Is Leon, who Francesca always claimed to be dangerous, to blame? Lorcan, who’s no stranger to violence, infidelity and threats? Or is it someone else entirely… Someone Francesca isn’t even aware of yet? As her suspicions grow, so does the sense that she’s not alone. She keeps seeing girls like Sophie everywhere. But Sophie’s dead… Isn’t she?

Local Girl Missing is a gripping novel that weaves an unreliable protagonist into a tangled web of deceit and danger, set in an pathetic fallacy-appropriate oppressive, cold and grey seaside town, keeping the reader guessing – and mistrusting everyone in turn. Though the ending came a little too quickly and neatly for me, Claire weaves an enjoyable and unique concept throughout the novel, letting us view the story’s full ending through an article published in the local town’s paper after its shocking climax. Recommended.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the review copy.

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