A review of yet another book I got for 99p on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal - a low-risk way to try new authors. The plotline looked intriguing and the setting (Northern Ireland) a little different. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite live up to the promise.
Lucy Black is a police officer recently moved back to her hometown of Derry to look after her ill father. She discovers a small girl wandering lost and traumatised in dense woods and sets out to try and find her real identity. Against the wishes of her superiors, she also becomes deeply involved in a kidnapping case surrounding the daughter of a local businessman and starts to discover that Northern Ireland's troubled past is still making itself felt in the present.
There are relatively few police procedural novels set outside England or the US, so it's a refreshing change to read one set in a Northern Ireland where (despite genuine progress and the media's optimistic portrayal), the impact of The Troubles is still felt and communities are still divided. McGilloway uses this setting effectively to create a bleak backdrop against which to set the action. References to Northern Ireland's past slot naturally into the narrative and, indeed, form an important part of it, giving Little Girl Lost a fairly unique feel.
The plot itself is an interesting, multi-stranded affair. There are effectively three different plotlines going on: Lucy's attempts to discover more about the little girl, her involvement with the wider kidnapping case and her personal quest to look after her father (who is suffering from dementia) and find the mysterious "Janet" he keeps talking about.
These plot strands are used well. Although they are quite distinct, they are woven together in a complex mess so that things keep cropping up that prevent Lucy from ever giving her full attention to any single one. This is just like real life where conflicting priorities arise all the time, and so Lucy's predicament rings true with the reader as she has to constantly juggle her personal and professional life. Whilst none of the plot elements are particularly complex, they are woven together quite skilfully by McGilloway and you find yourself slowly being dragged into the book.
And yet, despite all these good points, I never quite enjoyed Little Girl Lost as much as I felt I should. It was perfectly functional police procedural novel and but I always felt like there was something missing. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what, but if pressed it was that little spark, that X factor that makes a good book into a great one.
Little Girl Lost was readable and interesting, but it was never gripping. I enjoyed reading about Lucy's life, but never got fully caught up in it. It was one of those books that I got to the end of and thought "well, that was OK." Talk about damning with faint praise!
Part of the issue is that the plotting felt a little by-the-numbers. Although there are several plot strands, all follow fairly predictable paths. On the one hand this is a good thing: it underlines the realism of the plot and always feels plausible. On the other hand, it's a bit of a "safe book". It contains no surprises: it goes exactly where you expect it to go, the characters do exactly what you expect them to do and the bad guys turn out to be exactly who you expect them to be.
The same is true of the writing. McGilloway is a good, clear writer. He creates his characters in a sympathetic and clever manner, devoting as much time to them as the narrative requires; he uses the Northern Ireland setting well and Derry, where much of the book is set, is clearly a place he knows well. All of this comes across in the book. What doesn't come across quite so well is any sense of passion; for his plot, his characters or the locations. If I were to sum up Little Girl Lost in one word it would be "journeyman-like". That's not saying it's bad - far from it - it's just average.
I was constantly waiting for it to actually kick into gear. I always found it interesting, but it never seemed to develop to its full potential and that's a real shame because with just a small extra spark it could have been so much better than average. On the basis of this, I wouldn't say I'd never read another book by McGilloway again, but neither will I be queuing up outside the bookshop to grab copies of his other books.
If you're still desperate to read it, it will cost between £3-5 new, with second hand copies available from as little as 20p (excluding postage).
Little Girl Lost
© Copyright SWSt 2013