Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Glimmer to Find What Was Lost


Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday


Norman Stokoe is the new "Children's Czar" of England's Northumberland, and he has fallen between bureaucratic cracks with the newly formed government. He has a brand new position but no green-light to do anything. Still, with a good salary, his secretary Pippa and an office with a budget, things could be worse. Then Willie, a small-time reporter from a local newspaper, comes to him with a theory about some children who have gone missing. Everyone has labeled them as runaways, but Willie doesn't believe it. Soon both Pippa and Norman agree, but now they're on their own to find out the truth.

If one had to choose a tagline for Paul Torday's last novel, it would have to be "Every five minutes a child goes missing in the UK." In fact, this line actually appears several times, and was probably the inspiration for this book. It is what Torday does with this is very interesting. To begin with, he tells the story totally in third person, where each chapter focuses on one of the characters involved. This includes the three abducted children, and the man who kidnaps them, the mother and step-father of one of the children as well as our three protagonists. This is hardly an innovation, but it with such a large cast, it works well with the subject material, and helps round out the story while building the suspense very nicely.

At the heart of this novel is how Torday builds the suspense, especially with his descriptions of the antagonist's actions. This is essential to any good murder mystery novel, since without a really nasty bad guy, there's nothing to make the reader anxious. The character that Torday describes here is a particularly creepy one - both in his looks and in his action. I would even go so far as to say that he would be an excellent perpetrator for an episode of the TV series "Criminal Minds". If this was what Torday was working for, he certainly succeeded.

As the suspect becomes increasingly disturbing, the humanity of the three people trying to find these children also seems to grow. This is paralleled with the pain and suffering of the families for their missing children. With all of this already going on, Torday then throws in a twist which takes this story to a completely new level; one that is beyond your run-of-the-mill criminal drama genre. This twist could best be described as a supernatural element with Christian overtones. As strange as this may sound, I'd prefer not to discuss this any further, for fear of including spoilers. At the same time, I have to say that this didn't sit very well with me, and I'm not certain that it worked exactly as Torday might have hoped.

One thing you have to give to Torday is that he is very original. This was the third book of his that I read, and not one of them is anything like the other. And while this was his last novel before his death, I'm not fully convinced that this was his best one. However, it was certainly the most compelling of all of his reads. Even when parts disturbed me, I just couldn't stop reading, and writing like that is a skill essential to this genre. With this, Torday's characters are marvelously formed, never stereotyped and without hardly ever describing their looks, each one is easily visible to the reader.

All of this shows what a huge talent we lost when Paul Torday passed away. There's no telling what heights he could have soared to, had he had lived longer. Although this isn't my favorite of his books (and I still want to read the rest of them), I can still recommend it - especially to crime drama lovers - and give it a healthy four out of five stars. 


"Light Shining in the Forest" by Paul Torday is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris and Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. This is a revised version of my review on Curious Book Fans and Dooyoo (under my username TheChocolateLady), which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.