Lost Girl. Book Review

LOST GIRL by Adam Nevill
Pan, p/b, 436pp, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

So many writers at the current time embark on trilogies and series of books, reusing characters and settings. In some cases this can be because of encouragement from publishers, demands of fans, or just because the author likes their characters and wants to live with them a bit longer. Then there are writers who have so many ideas that take them in different directions that they don’t know which to tackle next. It always pleasing when an author chooses what they want to write next without the pressure from others.

Adam Nevill’s novels have always started with the building of characters and settings afresh. Lost Girl is no exception. While, in previous novels, Nevill has placed his action in a contemporary setting, this book takes off in a different direction. It is 2053. Climate change has run out of control and it seems that the whole world is moving north into Europe. With the migration comes food and water shortages, war, epidemics and crime. Those that can grow food in their gardens. Two years before the action starts, a four-year-old girl was snatched from their Cornish front garden while her father was distracted by an email correspondence with a woman he was completing having a fling with. It only seconds for the child to disappear and the guilt is immense. His sole rationale now is to either find his daughter, or at least who took her. The police haven’t been much help. They are too busy trying to keep the lid on the refugee crisis. He takes the task on himself with clues provided by a mysterious woman who is in internet contact with. He knows her only as a voice and has christened her Scarlett Johansson. Most children are snatched by paedophiles. Most wind up abused and dead.

The question almost anyone will ask at some time in their life, is how far are they prepared to go to protect someone they love. How willing are they to cross the line onto the dark side of society? The protagonist in Lost Girl has to face that dilemma early in the story. Throughout, he is only ever referred to as ‘the father’ and despite it being a third person narrative, he never has a name. This reflects the anonymity he has within this bleak society – he and his missing daughter are just more statistics – and the fact that he goes about his search gloved and masked.

When we join him, he has already questioned, with prejudice, a couple of known paedophiles. Now he is intent on interrogating another, in the hope that he will gain information that will inch him closer to his goal. Working on information Scarlett has given him, he plans carefully, staking out his target before moving against his target. This time there are problems. There is another man in the house, and two young boys locked in the attic. His methods are brutal. He doesn’t care what happens to the felons as long as it gets him closer to those who took his daughter. This time he comes away with a name, and blood on his hands. For the father, the game has changed. He knows it won’t be long before he is hunted as well as hunter.

Nevill usually has a supernatural element in his novels. In Lost Girl there are only hints that there might be something weird behind all the misfortunes visited on this future. A gang, which is soon after his head when he vanquishes a high ranking member, refers to itself as acolytes of King Death. The mysterious, skeletal figure begins to stalk the father, though how much is supernatural or the product of fear and imagination is for the reader to decide.  The setting is horrific enough, with death encroaching into ordinary lives at an increasingly alarming rate, while the father becomes more deeply embroiled in the nastier side of gang warfare, the closer he gets to his objective, and the closer he gets the more extreme his actions need to be to survive. Each confrontation takes him to another level of depravity.

Although the setting is Science Fiction, and the unfolding situation becomes more and more horrific, this is overall a story about the limits of love. This is a fine piece of writing but the father goes to places, mentally and physically that most of us hope we will never see.