After The Eclipse by Fran Dorricott

I would like to thank Sarah from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £7.99 paperback

A little girl is abducted during the darkness of a solar eclipse. Her older sister was supposed to be watching her. She is never seen again.

Sixteen years later and in desperate need of a fresh start, journalist Cassie Warren moves back to the small town of Bishop’s Green to live with her ailing grandmother. When a local girl goes missing just before the next big eclipse, Cassie suspects the disappearance is connected to her sister – that whoever took Olive is still out there. But she needs to find a way to prove it, and time is running out.

Many crimes are obviously traumatic, but we often forget that the impact of crime isn’t just on the day it takes place or the week or so after.  Instead many leave long lasting impacts that change our personality and the dynamics of our family and our community.  In this haunting thriller Fran Dorricott gives a tale of loss, the need to get to the truth and possibly to redeem the errors we feel responsible for.

Cassie Warren is our narrator recently returned to her childhood home to take care of her grandmother who is now exhibiting signs of dementia.  Cassie is feeling lost – she’s had to leave her job at a newspaper under a cloud, her relationship with her girlfriend has finally imploded and she’s fighting to contain her regular impulses to self-medicate with alcohol and sleeping pills. Returning to the place where her younger sister Olive vanished 16 years ago while under her care is potentially the worst thing, she could do but it may just help put those demons finally to rest.  Unfortunately, Cassie finds herself disconcerted that upon her arrival a young girl has gone missing a week before the next solar eclipse. Several similarities to Olive’s abduction who vanished during the eclipse of 1999 are found but is this Cassie looking at sheer coincidence or has someone else decided to repeat their past crime? 

I think the absolute key to this novel is how we are in Cassie’s head for most of the novel. She is our lead narrator and what becomes clear is that Cassie herself is still in significant pain many years after Olive’s disappearance. On the one hand she is fighting the desire to just succumb to losing herself in alcohol and get out of her head particularly as she is constantly haunted by dreams of her sister.  But despite this guilt as to how she feels indirectly responsible for Olive’s vanishing there is a competing desire to aid the victims (which has been a hall mark of her earlier journalism) but this time the crime is especially personal to Cassie.  She knows exactly how the family of the missing girl Grace is feeling and she does not want to fail – this starts to put her in conflict with her closest friend Marion who is also working to solve the case from her role as a detective in the police. As the story evolves, we get to understand the huge impact this crime has had not only on Cassie but also the devastating impact this had on her parents and Cassie’s relationship with them.

While flawed Cassie is a compelling figure – not giving up; running the risk of self-destruction but also a desire to do a lot better.  She is Intelligent and able to apply her journalistic skills and contacts to interrogating suspects old and new in order to work out what happened both in 1999 and more recently. I was also really impressed that while Cassie is gay, and her relationships are discussed it never becomes the sole focus of the book but instead simply accepted an element of her own personality which many people simply accept – a long overdue part of getting more diverse characters in thrillers  Occasionally we also get some scenes from Olive’s perspective in the days after her disappearances and this gets the reader to feel the horror of someone being cut off from their family and at the mercy of someone who is very dangerous.  This makes us see Olive as a human being not simply a plot point and the novel does note that for most journalists these crimes are just is just today’s clickbait without anyone really caring as to what happened. Dorricott has a fine ear for character and these two sisters really stood out and made me invested in their fates.

This novel is cleverly plotted, and the small town of Bishop’s Green is on the one hand a picturesque inland tourist destination but also as Cassie investigates, we see behind the suburban homes lurks something darker.  One of the people Cassie is working with is clearly not who everyone thinks they are and as Cassie gets closer to the truth, we see an escalation in threats to make Cassie stop digging.  Her foe is cunning and seems to be getting very very close to her adding an increasing  sense of menace to the story rather than this being a simple case that will be neatly wrapped up happily at the end.  The mystery slowly unwraps and at no time do you feel you’re being drop fed the clues and some rather delicious plot developments that throw the reader in confusion as to what is really going on.

I will warn readers that there are inferences to sexual abuse in the story but what I think is key is that this story is about those affected by violence not simply used as victim of the week to make the villain stand out as a diabolical evil. That focus on the personal makes Cassie’s quest for the truth really a standout novel for me as I think we sometimes see too many thrillers focused on spectacle rather than the people crime impacts.  I’ll be very much looking forward to how Dorricott wants to thrill her readers in future books.