Screenwriter Simon Booker has plenty of experience crafting compelling storylines, having worked on numerous TV dramas including Inspector Lynley Mysteries, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, The Stepfather and The Blind Date. His debut novel Without Trace is the first installment of the Morgan Vine series. The prison meetings, startling scenes and dodgy characters in this thriller would make a gripping drama if the book were adapted for TV.
Morgan’s career as an investigative journalist didn’t pan out the way she hoped: after a surprise pregnancy, she dropped out of university and became a single mum. Instead of paying the bills by writing about miscarriages of justice, she has to make do with cleaning jobs and writing about celebrity eating habits.
During her teenage years, Morgan’s dad was accused of a crime; this ordeal hurt her family and shattered her trust in the justice system. Danny, her first love, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for murdering his teenage step-daughter, but she believes he was framed. Morgan is at the forefront of the campaign declaring Danny’s innocence, and she even sets up a reading group in his prison so she can see him. Booker’s voluntary work for HMP Brixton and his interest in miscarriages of justice have fed into Morgan’s values and motives.Four years into Danny’s sentence, the key witness in the case suddenly changes his statement and Danny is a free man. Morgan begins reconnecting with her old flame, but she has to start looking at him differently when her daughter Lissa vanishes. Morgan tries to ignore the spooky warnings from an elusive stranger telling her Danny can’t be trusted and blocks out the public’s hatred of him. However, she realises she can’t trust anybody – not even the police – to find her daughter. Morgan is tenacious, intelligent and down-to-earth, making her a suitable star of the series.
Much of Danny’s behaviour is fishy: he has duct tape in his car, digs holes near his house and lies about a disturbing video on his phone. He may be convincingly calm at times, but there’s definitely something unsettling lurking beneath his cool exterior. Booker makes some of Danny’s actions seem innocent, yet ensures we’re still wary of him.
The mystery is difficult to figure out because there are so many shifty characters. Who could be behind Lissa’s disappearance? Caleb, the untrustworthy witness with his own secrets to protect? Clive, the conniving journalist who’ll do anything for a front-page scoop? Nigel, the creep from the prison who has a crush on Morgan? Or perhaps Ursula, the archetypal wicked stepmother who holds a grudge against Morgan?
Without Trace is a clever, tense and perfectly paced thriller that’s easy to become immersed in and very hard to put down. I smugly thought I’d predicted the ending part way through and I wasn’t even close, so have fun guessing who the criminal mastermind is!
Without Trace by Simon Booker is out now in ebook (Twenty7, £4.99) and will be released on 16th June 2016 (Twenty7, £7.99)