After Anna by Alex Lake was a Sunday Times bestseller in Britain last year. I picked it up based on the publisher's description: "A bone-chilling psychological thriller that will suit fans of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Daughter, by Jane Shemilt, and The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins."
Julia is running late to pick up her five year old daughter Anna from school - and her phone is dead. She hopes the school will understand - again. But when she finally arrives......Anna is not there. She's vanished without a trace.
The first half of the book details the search for Anna and the guilt and blame Julia is subjected to - by herself, the public, her husband Brian and his mother Edna. The actual police investigation is a bit thin - the focus seems to be on the three main characters and their dysfunctional relationships. Despite what has happened, I found it hard to like Julia and empathize with her. She's mercurial, all over the map with what she wants from life, from her marriage and belatedly - from motherhood. There's no question about Brian and his mother however. Edna is quite opinionated and Brian is happy to agree with her. Negative social media coverage provides a realistic look at how the media influences opinions and public judgement.
Cut into the narrative are the kidnapper's thoughts...."It was easier than you had expected. The girl came without complaint. You spotted her as she left the school, alone, looking around, clearly bereft of a parent to pick her up. Who would do that? Who would be so negligent as to leave a five-year-old in so vulnerable a position? It was appalling, it really was. But it was good for you."
This is not a spoiler - it figures prominently into the publisher's description. In part two Anna is returned unharmed. Where was she? Why was she taken? And why is the kidnapper still interested in this family? I think this plot turn would have been better if the reader could have discovered it themselves, rather than having it already laid out. It certainly detracted from the search for Anna in part one as we know she is going to be found.
There is a paucity of suspects and I found the whodunit fairly easy to suss out, despite the large red herring in the room. After Anna didn't quite live up to the comparison to Gone Girl, but I found the book entertaining for a lazy day's reading. Read an excerpt of After Anna. You can connect with Alex Lake (a pseudonym) on Twitter @Alexlakeauthor.