The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Publisher/Year: Century/2021

Publisher description

“Mum, there’s some people here from college, they asked me back to theirs. Just for an hour or so. Is that OK?”

Midsummer 2017: teenage mum Tallulah heads out on a date, leaving her baby son at home with her mother, Kim.

At 11pm she sends her mum a text message. At 4.30am Kim awakens to discover that Tallulah has not come home.

Friends tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a pool party at a house in the woods nearby called Dark Place

Tallulah never returns.

2018: walking in the woods behind the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started as a head-teacher, Sophie sees a sign nailed to a fence.

A sign that says: DIG HERE . . .

Reviewer: Robyn Walton

English author Lisa Jewell had success with rom-com fiction before allowing her liking for darker themes to flourish in the series of standalone psychological thrillers that has made her a big-selling author.

The Night She Disappeared is Jewell’s nineteenth novel, and it thrives on a combination of suspenseful plotting and traditional mystery tropes. The setting is an English village, Upfield Common in the Surrey Hills, with the only significant local establishment an expensive boarding school that’s a place of last resort for parents with problematic or alternative-minded teenagers.

Maypole House adjoins dense woodland notorious for the number of people who have had nasty and dangerous experiences there. Beyond the woods is a large old house that’s been so added to and altered over the centuries that its facade could hide any number of secret attics, passageways, and cellars.

Enter Sophie, a detective fiction writer, and her newish partner Shaun, who has been hired as headmaster of the school. They will live in a cottage on the grounds. It’s August 2018, not long before teaching resumes. Sophie goes for a wander and almost immediately discovers a handmade sign pointing to the earth and instructing her “DIG HERE”.

Another storyline, beginning in June 2017, focuses on a local teenager, Tallulah, who has a one-year- old. She and the child’s young father are living with her mother.

A third narrative starts in December 2016, when Tallulah begins getting to know a clique of affluent young people who have finished their schooling at Maypole House and have begun courses at the nearby community college rather than going to university as their families would have wanted. One of these students, Scarlett, is outstandingly alluring in a way that spells trouble.   Jewell writes in the present tense and her prose and dialogue are easy to read. The solving of a mystery disappearance takes rather too long, in my opinion. But if you enjoy lingering in a village setting, getting to know a cast of characters, then you won’t mind.