Missing, by Monty Marsden

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Monty Marsden, and Aria for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Marsden uses his debut novel to stir up chills in the reader while also developing a gripping murder mystery, unique for some of its characters and twists. After a young girl goes missing on her way to school outside Milan, what begins as a missing persons case for the local police soon turns national. Police Commissioner Sensi agrees to use all the resources that he can spare and Italy watches as news slowly trickles in, but all leads soon dry up. Part of the small Senegalese community, the Demba Family hold out hope that their young Aminata (Ami) will return home safely. Sensi approaches a former colleague who has done work with the police, criminal psychiatrist Mr. Claps, who suffered significantly at the hands of a serial murderer and was almost a victim. Plagued with the after-effects of aphasia due to blood loss, Claps has a jilted means of communication, but his ideas are as sharp as ever. He begins investigating as best he can, liaising with the police as often as possible. When a body emerges, that of Ami, Claps focusses on some of the minutiae, only to discover that this is not the killer’s first victim. A number of young girls have gone missing from African families across Italy. Their bodies have been discovered over the past number of years, though decomposition has made identification problematic and thereby delayed any concrete news to those who wait and pray. All the while, Elisa Cellini is in therapy to help deal with debilitating schizophrenia, which has made her uncommunicative for the past number of years, a period that aligns with her twin sister’s disappearance. Claps draws some strong parallels and determines not only that Denise Cellini may be part of the larger serial killing spree, but that Elisa has many answers locked away inside her. As the killer continues to feel the urge to find more victims and Ami’s father, Elaji will not rest until his daughter’s killer is punished, the story turns from a mystery into a manhunt, which adds to an already dramatic storyline. Can the killer be caught or will young girls be forever in harm’s way? Marsden does a wonderful job of luring the reader into the story and holding their attention until the bitter end. Highly recommended for those who love a crime thriller. 

This is a great debut novel that has been able to cross the threshold as it is translated from its original Italian. Marsden creates an interesting cross-section of characters, all of whom fit together perfectly, though they are varied enough not to be easily forgotten. Of particular note, the characters of Claps and Elaji prove to be unique in their presentation and force the reader to think outside the box as they synthesise the role these two men play in the larger plot. The story itself, a serial murder spree, is not unique, though some of the nuances within the mystery are not common enough that I can pull their use from other novel with ease. I enjoyed how fast-paced things were throughout the story, though there were moments when I wanted to rush Mardsen through his narrative and dialogue to reach the conclusion (out of excitement, not boredom). While the story does take on many scenes and plot lines, if I had to offer a criticism, it would be that the opening part of the novel, and less so later on, the various plots develop in too jagged a fashion. By this I mean that Marsden does not complete a vignette to develop a plot, but chooses to tease with a few paragraphs, moves to another segment, and then comes back, all within the same chapter. To create a better flow and lessen the mental gear shifting that I found myself doing, he ought to have developed a few of those segments into a single vignette (by that I mean the portion of writing between asterisks) and then move on. There are no real cliffhangers within these segments that are lost by following my proposed idea and it will likely keep from irritating the reader too much. That being said, there are time in the latter portion of the book when the momentum builds with these quick changes, especially when events are happening simultaneously. With a debut novel, one can expect the author is still getting a handle on things and the editor is also trying to shape the story without taking away the author’s personal flavoured approach to the delivery. Overall, this is a stunning opening novel and one can hope that Marsden will create more in this vein, as I will surely read them and recommend these sorts of pieces to anyone who will listen.

Kudos, Mr. Marsden for a powerful first thriller. Please take the constructive criticisms and keep writing, as I am sure you will develop a following if your novels flow as easily in languages other than English and Italian.