When two teenage girls go missing in the small town of Ballyterrin in Northern Ireland, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is forced to return to the place she escaped from years earlier and join the investigation. Haunted by the ghost of her own mother, who disappeared when she was thirteen, Paula becomes heavily involved in the case and her judgement is soon called into question.
After Paula connects the two girls to an American church group called The Mission, which has recently arrived in town, she begins to fear that the case might be more sinister than it originally appeared.
The Lost deals with some pretty important issues, from child abuse to religious tolerance and race discrimination; the story unfolds against the weighty background of Northern Ireland’s historic troubles. Throughout the book, Claire McGowan draws attention to the fact that racial and religious inequality still exists in Ireland and that people still identify others by their religion.
In Paula’s personal life too, the troubles are never far from her thoughts and her past still haunts her, preventing her from leading a full life although she escaped her childhood home years earlier. Returning to her father’s house, where her long vanished mother’s presence is still felt, brings everything flooding back.
The past is ever-present for much of the town too; Paula’s former teenage boyfriend, Aidan, is now an aggressive journalist determined to make his presence felt in the investigation into the missing girls. But Aidan too has a painful past; his father was the newspaper’s editor during the troubles and never feared printing the truth, which led to him being shot dead in his office in front of his young son.
Paula and Aidan have a complex relationship, which is further complicated by her connection with her boss, DCI Guy Brooking, a brooding but dedicated detective who has recently transferred from London.
At times I found it difficult to like Paula, as she was quick to jump to conclusions during her investigations and seemed to act before she thought about the consequences, which is exactly the reason her superiors found her difficult to work with. Although her instincts were often correct and she genuinely cared about helping people, she wasn’t always very professional. However, from an emotional point of view this does make her a more interesting lead character.
The plot is packed full of twists, sinister parallels and red herrings. Again we see that the town struggles to move on from the past, as the younger generation are caught in the same cycles of abuse and violence that affected their parents.
There are so many story threads in the novel that a few naturally fade into the background and I would have liked to see them receive a bit more attention, such as a series of girls who went missing in the area years earlier.
The Lost is an exciting novel, full of drama, which explores the lingering effect history can have on our lives. As the first part of a series, it sets the scene for Paula’s future adventures and developments in both her love life and character. I will be interested to see how her story unfolds.
Please note: I received an advance copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine programme, however opinions are my own.