A woman loading groceries into the back of her car is violently shoved aside and a stranger sporting a rubber Santa mask grabs her keys and takes off. She tries to hang on to the car but she is helpless to prevent her daughter, in the back seat, from being stolen away. British author Hayder plays on the fears of every parent in the compelling opening of her seventh novel, Gone.
Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Major Crime Investigation Unit arrives on the scene expecting the carjacker to follow past actions where the unexpected presence of children are involved—drop them off somewhere fast. As the hours drag on with no sign of 11-year-old Martha, Sergeant Flea (Phoebe) Marley, a police diver, puts forth an alternative theory: a horrifying pattern where seemingly unrelated carjackings might actually be a well-organized plan to kidnap the children. But why? When a four-year-old girl is taken and Martha still hasn’t turned up, Caffery and Marley realize the stakes have been raised and the proverbial clock is ticking.
Hayder has written a multilayered story that involves dedicated lead detectives, agonized parents, and a brilliant antagonist (who manages to stay one step ahead of the investigation). The author excels at getting inside Caffery and Marley’s heads as they frantically attempt to discover the villain before another child is taken. Her characters are fascinating; flawed and weighted with their own past, but dealing with the demands of the current case. Caffery in particular relates only too well to this case, because as a child, his own brother was taken and never seen again. The detective also navigates his strained relationship with Marley, which began professionally then veered toward the romantic only to be derailed by Caffery’s belief that Marley was involved in the disappearance of another woman.
Gone is a classic tension-filled thriller, elevated by Hayder’s characterization and her facility with description (which especially shines in Flea’s underwater search scenes). The final pages bring surprising revelations and the story ends with a shocking bang.