It’s 1984 and Kate Meaney is a 10-year-old who wants to become a private detective. Kate and her toy monkey roam the Green Oaks Shopping Centre in Birmingham, looking for crimes to investigate and mysteries to solve. Anyone Kate thinks is up to no good is placed under surveillance, and the findings recorded in her notebook.
Then one day, Kate vanishes. She isn’t seen again until 20 years later when Kurt, a night security guard, sees a little girl with a toy monkey wandering the deserted shopping centre on his video monitor. The story of the missing girl has always haunted Kurt and so, with the help of Lisa, a bored and disillusioned Your Music assistant manager, he begins his search.
Throughout the book O’Flynn weaves in an eerie mystery whilst raising questions about life, loss and happiness. Her writing is engaging and very witty with some laugh out loud moments especially at the expense of middle management.
The first part of the book, my favourite part, is narrated from the point of view of Kate. O’Flynn uses humour to capture Kate’s innocence and vulnerability, which makes her a very likeable character; so much so, that when Kate’s narrative ended, I wanted to stay with her.
In the second part, the book moves to 2004, and mainly to the lives of Lisa and Kurt, who are also trapped, metaphorically speaking, in the sprawling shopping centre. As the pair take on the case of the missing girl, they begin to question the monotony of their own lives.
With any change of narrator, there’s a risk that the reader will prefer one over the other. This was definitely the case for me. Lisa and Kurt’s narratives were enjoyable, but they were less endearing than Kate’s narrative, which I really loved. However, the change was essential for the plot and mystery of the novel to work. Within part two, we are also presented with narratives from other characters, and I did think that some of the perspectives were unnecessary and seemed underdeveloped, the shop keeper for instance. There’s also some comic parts about management, which although they are very funny, I did feel they were a bit too long, and not essential to the plot.
What Was Lost is Catherine O’Flynn’s debut novel and won the First Novel prize at the Costa Book Awards. When you read it, it becomes obvious why it won. I really enjoyed this book; the mystery keeps you turning the pages, whilst the content makes you think a bit deeper. It’s definitely one you can relax with on holiday.
I originally wrote this review as a guest blog for The Book Corner.