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Psychological Mysteries

Losing You, Nicci French, St. Martin's, $7.99.

Losing You by Nicci French

I've long been aware of Nicci French—a British husband and wife writing team—but had never picked up one of their books until this one, which barely left my grasp during the time it took me to read it. It's a completely absorbing thriller/chase novel that at the same time encompasses some nuanced details of the life of a teenager and the bond between a mother and a child. Recently divorced mom Nina Landry, who has the very day of the story turned 40, is looking forward to a Florida vacation with her two children and her new boyfriend. They live on Sandling Island, a remote and tiny British Island in the North Sea, and Florida couldn't seem more like a faraway paradise to this family than would the moon to you and I.

Her birthday hasn't started well for Nina, though—her ancient car is on the fritz and she's asked one of her fellow teachers to take a look at it so she can get to the airport. When the car is finally sorted she heads home to pack and do laundry for her trip and is surprised—not really happily—by an impromptu birthday party that catches her just coming out of the shower. Meantime she's bothered because her 15 year old daughter Charlie, who apparently planned this party, is nowhere to be found. She'd been sleeping over with friends the night before but had been expected back from her paper round in time to pack her things, and it's getting close to departure time.

As a reader you are totally with Nina on her journey as she begins to realize that Charlie is not just late, but missing; and that she must both explain to her 12 year old son that they won't be going to Florida, and get the police to believe that Charlie isn't just another 15 year old who's vanished for reasons of her own. French is able to combine the relentless fear and pressure that Nina feels while at the same time giving a picture of her home life and the changing life, needs, and many secrets of a teenager, which, by the time her desperate mother discovers them, she doesn't even care about.

When Nina and a friend find Charlie's abandoned bike the police at last begin to take things seriously, but their admonition to Nina to sit by the phone and wait for progress reports goes unheeded, as Nina, ever more desperate, delves into her daughter's personal life, uncovering relationships and peer cruelties she's been unaware of. To the reader—who is really Nina's surrogate—the efforts of the police seem as clumsy and ineffective as they do to Nina, though you're meant to feel that way. French gives you no choice, and this book actually made me physically agitated as I was reading it. The ultimate resolution is both satisfying and surprising. This is a very intense, well done and well written book that will take you on a not always welcome roller coaster ride.

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