The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

The Missing OneFellow French resident Rosemary who blogs at Aussie in France, mentioned this book after reading my review of Hélène Gestern’s The People in the Photo, a novel written in letters, which is also an unravelling of a mystery, where a woman seeks to understand who her mother really was in those years before she was born.

GesternIn Gestern’s book, the mother died when the daughter was only 4 years old, it took her more than 30 years to begin searching.

Lucy Atkins protagonist Kal is 38 years old, the mother of an 18 month old boy Finn and living in England when her mother dies. It is both her death and the discovery of suspicious text messages on her husbands telephone that prompt her somewhat irrational, spur of the moment decision to dig into her mother’s past, the period around her birth, when she lived in North America.

Kal is grieving not just her mother’s death, but a loss she can’t explain, the reason her relationship with her mother was so fraught, what it was she reminded her of that seemed to cause such angst. On an impulse, she runs away from confronting her own relationship difficulties, an escape that carries her to the small island of Spring Tide, near Vancouver to find Susannah, a woman who sent her mother a postcard on the same day every year, a friend she had never ever mentioned.

Orca by Ayman

Orca by Ayman

Lucy Atkins brings an air of tension and menace to the story, as those with knowledge of the questions Kal is asking actively avoid answering to prevent her from finding out. She creates a story with pace and suspense while a captivating back-story recounts to the reader little by little the events that occurred in her mother Elena’s life leading up to her birth.

The author evokes this sense of place well, although for a British woman arriving on a small Canadian island for the first time, she makes few observations relating to its foreignness, we forget that she is in a place where we would likely be noticing many of the differences of a foreign culture, although it might be said that Kali is completely blinded by her grief and outrage, because she makes plenty of decisions that will make the average reader gasp in disbelief. If anything, England felt more foreign and the wildness of Canada described with real familiarity.

Orca by Allia

Orca by Allia

The author uses a dual narrative technique to tell  a little of the back-story of Kal’s mother Elena’s life.  She met her British husband while doing a PhD at a university in California, and as the story will reveal, ended up in Canada.

The narrative around the mother and the sharing of her passion for sea creatures, their unique behaviours, relationships and ways of communicating – did you know that orca whales speak in different dialects? – was a fascinating distraction from the drama of our foolhardy heroine and the not so friendly friend she pursued for enlightenment.

Atkin’s uses various “mystery” devices to create intrigue, like failing to mention characters that would have been present in the narrative and mind of the character, and although this sometimes interrupted my reading occasionally, ultimately I just wanted to continue to know what was going to happen, especially as there was a young child involved!

An Island Floathouse

An Island Floathouse

It was an enjoyable read  even though I was a aware at times of the author pulling strings in the narrative to create effect and had to try to stop myself from expecting that Kal act more sensibly or true to her instinct, as anyone who has ever had an 18 month old baby would likely agree, her journey was indeed just what she needed to teach her some sense.

I took this book with me on a flight to London and it was the perfect in-flight read, no likelihood of dozing with The Missing One, you’ll want to stay awake until its finished.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley and Artwork provided by my children, one who likes to draw, the other who likes to make digital art. Yes, it’s the school holidays!

9 thoughts on “The Missing One by Lucy Atkins

  1. I”m so glad you enjoyed it, Claire. I, too, felt it was contrived at times, but it kept the suspense going and the story was quite menacing. You do constantly fear for the baby’s safety.

    I found all the details about the orcas fascinating.

    BTW, I’ve started reading Le jeune homme vert – there is an e-version. I have already read a lot of Michel Déon’s books, and was surprised I hadn’t already read it. It makes a refreshing change from modern French novels which all seem to have the same annoying trendy tone!


    • The suspense was well crafted and I am sure we will be seeing more books from Lucy Atkins. I think she has the potential to write with greater depth, her interest and delving into the whale research showed that and was indeed fascinating.

      Great to hear you got the e-book of Le jeune homme vert, I didn’t realise literally until I got to the end that there might have been a sequel, a writer’s promise on the last page of his novel is a daring thing to do! But yes, indeed there is a sequel, so looking forward to that when it comes along in English too. Must support those translations!

      Thanks again for recommending this title.


  2. Beautiful review, Claire! The story makes me think of Bernhard Schlink’s story ‘The Other Man’ (based on which a movie was also made). After reading your review, I want to find out the secret behind Elena’s life. I loved the pictures painted by your children. They are so beautiful.


    • Oh I want to read that story Vishy and I should have seen the film, as my Aunt was the Production Designer on it, so a must see for me! I think it was in a set of short stories if I remember correctly.

      Glad you enjoyed the illustrations, the hand drawn and computer whiz! 🙂


      • So wonderful to know that your Aunt was the production designer for the film, Claire 🙂 I hope you get to watch the film and like it. I liked it very much. Yes, that story is in a collection called ‘Flights of Love’. I hope you get to read it some time.


  3. wow, this book is indeed interesting. reading your review, I can see that the narrative is strong enough to make us stay on our seat. the idea is not really genuine though, in my opinion. but I believe the author presents it very well.


    • Hi Erdeaka, It is a story that asks some interesting questions and provokes the readers instinct to want to judge the character for whom we are supposed to care for. I found that difficult myself as a mother, to accept many of the decisions that Kal makes,but I also think its makes an interesting talking point, as so-called rational minded people including ourselves, do make unhinged decisions at least once in a lifetime.

      I think it could have been narrated in a more believable way, which would have made it even more frightening perhaps, if others supported her decision to go and find out and then she met with the trouble she did. Then readers would have been left thinking, that could happen to anyone, whereas in this book, we know it would never happen to us, because of the repeated number of decisions she makes against her better instinct.


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