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The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette is the first novel by R.T. Raichev, a Bulgarian novelist who lives in London (hope I got that right). I read his Assassins at the Ospreys novel which is the fourth book in the series and thoroughly enjoyed it so went out and got the first three books. I wish I'd read this one first because as with all series of books written about a small cast of characters its best to get on the ground floor first before meeting them when they have become established in their relationships.
The hunt for Sonya Dufrette introduces us to the main character in the novels an aspiring author called Antonia Darcy, she is a librarian in a gentleman's club with a pen chance for investigating interesting bits of literature which comes her way and is trying without success to write a murder mystery novel. She also has an admirer called Major Hugo Payne (spelt P A Y N E as he reminds people), they are both in their late forties/early fifties reasonably well off and of course well educated.
The hunt for Sonya though takes us back to the day of Charles and Diana's wedding in 1981 when as a house guest for the lord and lady Morlocks Antonia is present when a daughter of one of the other guests goes missing, Sonya is seven but a little backward and her large teddy is found floating in the river running behind the house. The police never find out anything and the incident has been forgotten until Antonia runs into the girl's father, a rather dislikeable man who has the tendency to annoy other people. This meeting along with the 20 year anniversary pushes Antonia to finding a long forgotten hand written account of that day which she has written just after the events.
The book then progresses along what you might perceive to be fairly simple murder mystery means, an amateur detective through luck, perseverance and happenchance solves the case where the police fail and of course there is a twist at the end. This is what would have happened if penned by another author but RT rather plays with the concept constantly making Antonia doubt her own ideas and satirises the cult of the amateur super sleuth. Every time a new piece of information is laid on the table, Antonia goes off on a rather long winded attempt at putting the loss of Sonya into a believable storyline only to be slapped down a few pages later when this flight of fantasy is revealed for what it is a flight of fancy. These little moments of supposed clarity are rather enjoyably squashed by the author, he tends to use the readers perceptions as tools to make them think in one direction but actually the story slowly goes in another.
The other sense in this novel is one of a rather creeping horror, the concept of a lost child on the day of Charles and Diana's wedding gives this reader a chill running down his backbone. I'm sure I'm not the only user of this website whose earliest memories are of that day and I would be around 8 when the wedding occurred almost the same age as the little girl. The thought that the wedding could be used as a backdrop for something sinister is both delightful to consider and chilling in its believability. That hot summer's day now nearly 30 years ago became a part of the nation's culture and to write a novel which uses it as a weapon or a situation to be explored is a very clever one. I suspect the author is also a similar age to myself so perhaps he also has a link to a little girl going missing whilst walking in the garden?
There is of course a twist and a rather neat but sombre ending to the novel but it has given us the characters and their settings for the future novels and I am looking forward to reading the next.