I’m a fan of all kinds of crime novels, but a lot of my favorites tend to be linked by one thing: unexplained disappearances. The idea of somebody vanishing fascinates me because it throws up so many intriguing questions: How and why do people disappear? Where do they go? How do they stay lost? What is life like for those they leave behind? What if they come back?
One reason, I think, for the appeal of these types of stories is that they offer a sense of hope. If a detective is hunting down a murderer, we can get caught up in the thrill of the chase—but we know the victim is never coming back. Whereas with missing person stories, a loved one or a detective is searching for someone who might still be found.
Another reason, I think, is that these stories speak to something we all think about from time to time. When the going gets tough in a job or a relationship, who hasn’t fantasized about quitting and just starting afresh? It’s not so hard for any of us to imagine the parallel lives we might lead, the places we might go, the responsibilities and ties we might leave behind.
I wrote my first standalone thriller, Safe House, while I was living on the Isle of Man, and the book was inspired by rumors I had heard of the island being used to relocate people involved in the UK’s Protected Persons Service. With my latest thriller, Long Time Lost, I wanted to explore the idea of witness protection from a completely new angle.
It seemed to me that every witness protection program I’d heard of or read about was run by a government authority. But I wondered: what if somebody decided to set up their own privately-funded, highly-illegal scheme, helping to hide at-risk individuals across Europe? How might such a scheme work? And what would happen if it began to fail?
I know I wouldn’t have begun to think about any of those questions, or how I might answer them, without first reading some terrific novels about disappearances. Here are five of my favorites:
by Dennis Lehane
When four-year-old Amanda McCready vanishes from her Dorchester home in the middle of the night, Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro find themselves drawn into a case they want no part of. In Lehane’s heartbreaker of a mystery, the twists and reversals cascade to a shattering finish that lays bare the moral complexities of the case and tests the relationship between Kenzie and Gennaro like never before.
by Tim Krabbé
In Krabbé’s classic noir tale, young lovers Rex and Saskia are driving from the Netherlands through southern France when Saskia inexplicably disappears from a petrol station. The unresolved nature of her disappearance leads Rex on a dangerous, obsessive quest to discover her fate.
by Megan Abbott
When thirteen-year-old Evie Verver vanishes after being spotted climbing into a strange car, her best friend Lizzie Hood begins her own investigation that exposes the dark secrets of her 1980s suburban neighborhood. Abbott’s prose is as dazzling as always, and The End of Everything features a truly haunting ending.
by Laura Lippman
Lifelong crook Felix Brewer flees the US in 1976, leaving behind his wife, Bambi; his three daughters; and his mistress, Julie. As the title suggests, After I’m Gone explores the various impacts of Felix’s disappearance on those closest to him as they unspool over the years, and Lippman is an expert at teasing out a complex web of narrative strands. After I’m Gone also introduces retired Baltimore cop Sandy Sanchez, one of my favorite new detectives of recent years.
by Harlan Coben
Dr. David Beck’s wife reappears eight years after she was kidnapped and murdered—or does she? In Tell No One, Coben’s balance of humor and suspense is perfectly calibrated and his plotting devilish. Tell No One is also the best example I know of how to make the nice-guy hero into a compelling lead.
To learn more or order a copy of Long Time Lost, visit:
Chris Ewan is the author of the standalone thrillers Dark Tides, Dead Line, and Safe House, which was named by The Telegraph as one of the top ten crime novels to take on vacation, and the Good Thief mystery series. The first in the series, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, was named one of the “best books for grownups” by Publishers Weekly and AARP The Magazine, and one of the best thrillers of the year by the London Times.