THE latest novel by the author of Salmon Fishing In Yemen is about child abduction. Beyond that bald statement of subject matter it’s hard to define.
Light Shining In The Forest
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £12.99
Is it a thriller? A modern-day religious fable? Or a stinging critique of a society that, by Torday’s account, has built a huge bureaucracy around child protection but cannot prevent a child going missing every five minutes?
Torday first introduces us to Geordie, a big, burly logger in Kielder forest just over the Border, and the bereaved stepfather of a missing boy called Theo Constantine. The vivid simplicity of Geordie’s life and his befogging grief is contrasted with the existence of Norman, the new “Children’s Czar”, who does little beyond drinking espressos and charging them to the taxpayer. He is a moral and emotional blank, although we are pointedly told he was once religious.
Meanwhile, in two deftly sketched scenes, Torday shows us a predator stalking two young girls. This early part of the book is tautly written, the tone acid and angry, but then things start to go awry. Torday deploys that old cliché, the ambitious local newspaper reporter scenting a career-making scoop: Willie Craig connects up the three disappearances and somewhat improbably reawakens Norman’s conscience and curiosity.
It turns out that Theo –whose mum is Mary and whose paternity is a mystery – exhibited stigmata at school before his disappearance. There’s a neat and nasty professional conspiracy at the heart of the story but the thriller elements are ploddingly plotted, each twist laboriously explained in dialogue.
Although Torday has a vivid flair for describing a landscape or a trashed flat, the main characters never convince, while the supporting cast rarely rise above caricature. The book meanders towards a climax of sorts, then chunters on for six more chapters.
A note on the inside back cover explains that an e-novella featuring Theo is available, which makes me fear this is just the first in a supernatural/Christian/ghost/crime series. «