BLURB: In a family built on lies, who can you trust? Audrey Bailey will never forget the moment she met Ralph Templeton in the sweltering heat of a Bombay café. Her lonely life over, she was soon married with two small children. But things in the Templeton household were never quite what they seemed. Now approaching 70, and increasingly a burden on the children she’s never felt close to, Audrey plans a once-in-a-lifetime cruise around the Greek isles. Forcing twins Lexi and John along for the ride, the Templetons set sail as a party of three – but only two will return. On the night of her birthday, Audrey goes missing…hours after she breaks the news that the twins stand to inherit a fortune after her death. As the search of the ship widens, so does the list of suspects – and with dark clues emerging about Audrey’s early life, the twins begin to question if they can even trust one another…
This book has a rather dramatic beginning, so I’ll get right to it, without any blethering from me, for once! *Cue sighs of relief throughout the blogosphere.* So…the opening scene sees a distressed Lexi, and a slightly less distressed (on the surface, anyway) John being told by the Captain of the cruise ship they were on that they are calling off the search for their mother, who it appears has fallen/jumped/been pushed (!) off the ship. And, the twins had been told by her just the night before she disappeared that they would inherit their father’s quite considerable fortune on her death – despite him telling them they would get nothing, and would have to work for what they had. Both know that the other has need of money – for Lexi to have IVF treatment, and for John to pump into his business, as he made some disastrous decisions (out of greed, to keep his materialistic and way-out-of-his-league Estonian wife happy), which led to him losing a fortune. Can you trust your twin? How well do you know them – and what they’re capable of?
The book moves easily between the early 70s, when Audrey meets the twin’s father, Ralph, the cruise, and just before the cruise, when twins John and Lexi are starting to worry about their mother’s safety living alone, as to them she appears to be getting forgetful, which is most unlike her. Then she has a small car crash, after going out with Lexi to an exhibition of photographs of Bombay in the years they were there. The crash prompts John to rush around getting brochures for retirement villages. Perhaps he has good reason to be concerned, given recent events in his home – he’s married to an Estonian woman, Anastasia, and she’s brought two children into the marriage, as well as her mother, Valya, who was living with them. I say “was” because she was showing signs of dementia, and ended up falling down the stairs and dying. (As you know from the blurb and the opening pages, it appears their mother has fallen from the cruise ship they were on to celebrate her 70th birthday. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “To lose a mother-in-law may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose a mother too looks like carelessness.”) Carelessness…or even murder? (And I know not all of you would consider losing your mother-in-law a misfortune, but we don’t talk about that.)
Then we go back to the very beginning, and meet a heartbroken Audrey, lost after the death of her father, her only remaining family. When a letter from an old friend in India arrives, inviting her out, Audrey books her passage to India, and lives with her friend Janet in Bombay. She easily gets a job, and she and Janet go out on the expat scene, where there are many eligible young men. And when Audrey meets Ralph, who’s strikingly handsome, well-off, with good prospects, although a bit older, she finally feels she has had some luck in her life. Janet isn’t keen – she doesn’t care for the way he orders for Audrey in the fancy restaurants he favours, and the way he dislikes her voicing her own opinions, or belittles her when she does. But Audrey’s smitten, and when Ralph proposes, she is over the moon. But he has a secret or two to reveal to her…
A year into their marriage, though, Ralph is forced to quit the company’s Indian arm in disgrace, after he kills an Indian beggar, who he thought was harassing Audrey (he wasn’t.) With his pricey lawyer, Ralph gets off with a non-custodial sentence, but the bad press means he must return to England if he wants to keep his well-paid job and any prospects of a promotion. This is devastating to Audrey, who had grown to adore the sights, sounds and smells of bustling Bombay. The suburbs of London are no comparison, despite the large handsome house Ralph buys. Now the mother to twins, Audrey has a full but unfulfilling life, especially as Ralph refuses to let her work. He eventually allows her to spend a couple of hours a week at an art class. But this ends violently when Ralph gets jealous – quite understandably, in this case – of the hunky male lecturer, who’s described as gorgeous. But he has long hair! And a long wild beard! God, the seventies – they really had no style standards. (I think any man who favours long hair should be put up against a wall and…given clippers!)
So, yes, Ralph. He basically makes everyone in the family’s life a misery, although by the time the children are old enough to sense an atmosphere, Audrey has learned how he’s best mollified, though there’s still tension when he’s about. When he dies, Audrey is more than happy to sell the big house and settle in Cornwall, where John is, and where Lexi eventually moves to, after fights with her twin about her needing to “do her share” of looking after their mother. What they fail to understand is that their mother is quite happy pottering about, in the garden, or on her laptop. (No wonder, after all these years of stress, I say.)
For her seventieth birthday she sends them invitations to go on a cruise of the Mediterranean, on her. She promises to consider the retirement village proposal when they return. But Audrey doesn’t return…
She does, however, leave something for Lexi – the first clues to solving a family mystery that’s been kept hidden for 40 years. This is indisputably (imho) the best part of the story. Kantaria has a real skill writing about families, and the dynamics within them, and how they talk – or don’t talk, about certain things. I also found all the stories from different times in the book equally readable and enjoyable, and that isn’t always the case with such books. Audrey is definitely the heart of the book – she’s an incredibly tolerant, unselfish woman. The cruise gives her the chance to have some meaningful conversation about their family – although not so much with John, who still worships the father who never really noticed him. If books about families, and their past mysteries, as well as their present ones, is up your street, then The Disappearance is definitely for you. It’s a very well-drawn novel, about duty, betrayal, guilt, sacrifices, and love. Personally, I loved it, and romped through it – even if there wasn’t lashings of blood in it! And I’d definitely be interested in reading anything else she writes. This is her second novel, and I’d call it a real achievement. (And Judy Finnigan says it’s, “Utterly compelling.”)
I received an eARC of this book through the publishers, MIRA, and NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.