Book Review: After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott

After the Eclipse

Fran Dorricott

March 5, 2019

After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott is a thriller about two abductions of young girls that take place 16 years apart. A sister of one of the missing girls tries to connect the recent abduction to her missing sister’s cold case to find the criminal responsible. 

Half an hour to go until it was dark. Until the eclipse. Olive mouthed the word and felt the magic of it tickle her with excitement.

 

She’d been waiting for ages for this. Bishop’s Green was the perfect place to watch it, really. A town soaked in its own magic. It even had the Triplet Stones—sort of Druid stones up on the hillside—which Olive loved. Visiting her grandparents here was like going on holiday back in time, to a world where people still believed in omens and spells and lucky charms.

 

As she headed away from the noise there was an eerie quality to the sound fading away, as though that too was being eaten alive. She felt like she was running out of time.

 

…Suddenly, the silence was unnerving, the quiet she’d craved was too much. Olive wanted to stop the van. She wanted to get out. But she found that her mouth wasn’t working properly; her tongue felt heavy and she was pretty tired. Panic started to worm about inside her. He’d rolled the windows up. The van kept moving. Further away from Cassie, from Gran and Grandad. From everything.

 

The man kept looking at her. He drove faster.

 

And as the road grew darker, as the sun was eaten by the moon, Olive Warren began to wish she had just done as she was told.

In August of 1999, eleven-year-old Olive Warren disappears from the picturesque village of Bishop’s Green in the middle of an eclipse. Older sister Cassie was meant to be watching her, but she was distracted by her newfound first love, Marion.

Cassie only looked away for a moment—but that was all it took.

Sixteen years later, Cassie has returned to Bishop’s Green to care for her ailing grandmother. Olive’s disappearance still haunts her, haunts the town; that summer permanently altered her life and destroyed her family.

Struggling with a dependence on alcohol and sleeping pills, still recovering from a fractured relationship with her last girlfriend, and currently out of a job thanks to a drunken interview gone wrong, Cassie Warren is floundering for solid ground.

And then it happens again.

My gaze fell on my phone again, and I caught sight of the photograph in the article. Grace Butler’s face was round and pink and scrubbed clean for a school picture. Blonde hair, blue eyes. She was positively angelic.

 

MISSING

Pictured: eleven-year-old Grace Butler, who disappeared on her way home from school
on Friday, 13 March.

 

A growing sense of unease filled me as I read the article for the third time. Her stepdad, Roger Upton, was pictured as well, looking disheveled and distraught.

 

She’d been missing two days and they were already dragging the lake. Christ. I shook my head and pushed back the awful memory of that other time, sixteen years ago. Men on the lake, boats, a crowd gathered at the edge of the water.

 

…What were the chances of two little girls the same age vanishing sixteen years apart in the same town? Probably quite high.

 

…But we were due another solar eclipse and that set my teeth on edge, my journalist brain making all sorts of phantom connections. The timing was too much of a coincidence—more of a coincidence than anything else.

 

They’re not connected, I told myself. They can’t be…

But as more comes out about the missing girl and her similarities to Olive, Cassie becomes more and more certain that there is a connection. She digs deeper into the families involved, sinking into obsession even as Marion—now a Detective Inspector—urges her to be careful.

Is it the same man who took Olive, or merely a copycat? Were the abductions motivated by the superstitions permeating the town, a sort of magical madness, or something devilishly pragmatic? Is there a monster still living in town, hiding behind a smiling, familiar face?

Is there any hope of rescue, or are they both beyond saving?

I nodded, but didn’t agree. Marion was half right: this wasn’t like London, but people here weren’t soft. I remembered that much from Olive’s disappearance. They might be more subtle than city people, but they would fight tooth and nail to protect their own. To keep their secrets. Perhaps even if it meant that another little girl never came home.

After the Eclipse is Fran Dorricott’s first novel—which may surprise, given how assured and well-crafted it is. The plot itself may not be a new one, but she makes the familiar grooves of an abduction tale feel new with her often beautiful, frequently poignant prose.

And altering the usual script in several key ways gives us a fresh perspective. So many of these kidnapping stories are told by the hard-drinking, hard-nosed men/detectives investigating them; seeing everything through a lesbian journalist’s eyes is more interesting, and the familial connection leads to several emotional gutpunches. Cassie is a compelling lead to follow; hardly perfect and all the more human for her failings and frailties.

Dorricott also does a splendid job of muddying the waters so the resolution can’t be seen from a mile away; there are red herrings a-plenty here, and enough breadcrumbs for the observant to suspect everyone with equal conviction.

This is as much a story about a family recovering—or not recovering—from an unthinkable tragedy as it is about the missing girls. As time passes and Cassie sinks deeper into her personal investigation/private hell, we’re given more and more glimpses of the psychological and physical toll such crimes can have on everyone around the victim. The subtle fractures and the gaping fault lines. The human cost is always front and center here.

And while the crimes may have been committed in the solid, real world, there are numerous intriguing allusions to mystical forces. Bishop’s Green is a place steeped in mythology, granting even small actions and symbols greater significance when seen through the veil of superstition.

It lends a dark fairy tale air to the story, making the missing girls both innocent victims and lost princesses, casting Cassie’s desperate search in the light of a grail quest. The abundance of Greek references—Cassie’s full name is Cassiopeia, olives are synonymous with Athena and wisdom, eclipses were ill omens in Ancient Greece—also calls to mind classical tragedies and choruses warning of danger and death.

The balanced mixture of hard realism and fantastic imagery combines into a potent novel that often feels like a feverish nightmare.

The balanced mixture of hard realism and fantastic imagery combines into a potent novel that often feels like a feverish nightmare. Will Cassie’s quest prove successful? Is there any possibility for a happy ending after so much suffering and pain? Dorricott pulls you in and drags you along all the way to the final page, making After the Eclipse a brilliant debut. There’s little doubt that she’ll be a name to watch in the coming years.

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