Review: The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent is a nerve-racking novel about a disappeared barmaid and the friend who will do anything to find her (available March 6, 2018).

I’ve heard a lot about the books of Christobel Kent—all good things, so I was excited to dive into this one. Twenty-something barmaid Natalie “Nat” Cooper is making ends meet and still reeling from a recent breakup with her ex, Jim. She and Jim have a long history, but things finally came to a head, and while Nat is muddling through, Jim is taking it extremely hard. Luckily, the bustle of the Bird in Hand goes a long way toward keeping her mind off Jim.

She does miss her best friend, Beth Maxwell—who is visiting her mother—and is looking forward to her getting back. Nat and Beth are … different. Nat is quiet and fairly reserved, while Beth is a brash bombshell who goes through men like a boat through a wake in the nearby river. She’s also a huge draw for the punters, which is why the bar owner, Janine, hired her in spite of her not-quite-on-point waitressing skills.

Nat had never had a sister, and never had a friend like Beth. Someone who knew you, without you having to tell them, even if they were so different. At school Nat would have been the one who sat in the front row with her head down, and Beth arriving late and smelling of fags. But they hadn’t gone to school together, had they? From different ends of the country, Nat having grown up on the edge of this very village, done her time at the high school in town, then college. Beth, four years younger though you wouldn’t know it sometimes, was from somewhere up north and had left school at sixteen.

“What good is fecking school anyway,” she’d said, without bitterness, or so it seemed, cool, agreeable. “Flipping teachers after you every five minutes. What they gonna teach me?”

And then that smile, that big lazy smile that drew people to her. “More to learn other places. Right, Nat?” And she’d give Nat a shove with her shoulder, that shoulder always peeling brown after hours staked out in the sun. She knew Nat had played it by the book: college, sleeping on sofas in London for a year trying to get jobs before ending up back here anyway. Both of them behind the bar of the Bird.

Beth is not a woman most men would want to take home to mom but one they’d be happy to bed—though I really hate that whole categorization anyway. So does Nat. Nat knows the quiet kindness that Beth hides under her tough exterior. What she doesn’t know is the depth of the pain that Beth is running away from. She’ll soon find out, though.

Nat has been texting Beth, and Beth has been responding—or so Nat thinks. However, Nat knows that Beth had a doctor’s appointment scheduled, and when the day of the appointment comes and goes, Nat starts to worry. She seems to be the only one worried, though. Beth has a bit of a reputation for flightiness, and it seems that anyone who knows her wouldn’t be at all surprised if she met a man and decided to do a runner. Nat’s not so sure. When Beth’s landlord turns up claiming Beth is behind on rent, Nat really starts to worry.

To add to her stress, a 92-year-old bar patron named Victor—who Nat adores—is in the hospital, and his family can’t be contacted. So Nat steps in to make sure he’s taken care of. Little does Nat know, Victor witnessed something that may have to do with the murder of a young man who was recently fished out of the river near the caravan where Victor lives on his own.

This murder is the focus for the local police, and Nat is having trouble getting anyone to listen to her concerns about Beth. She’s shocked when Beth’s landlord turns up at the bar with Beth’s phone, of which Beth was very protective. So Nat decides to do some snooping of her own in Beth’s empty apartment. The landlord has already been at it, bagging up Beth’s stuff and setting it aside.

Would the police go through the rubbish? Should she touch nothing? In one rash movement Nat upended the bag full of clothes and it all came tumbling out: crop tops, the favourite sequined mini, the wedges, the sandals, jeans, jeans, more jeans. The pair she never washed, she was wearing them in to the perfect color, Beth said, the perfect jeans, moulded to my arse, and slapping her own backside, friendly.

Mo Hawkins wouldn’t have given it a thought, why a girl like Beth would leave it all behind. It wasn’t like she could splash out on a new wardrobe, on what she earned—or maybe Mo thought Beth would be looked after, a sugar daddy, taken round the shops. Not likely. Beth wasn’t that girl. Beth wanted her freedom. Party girl Beth wasn’t going to be locked up in a carpeted pink pad or a chrome and glass high rise.

At this point, further discoveries—like Beth’s acne medication, which she’d never leave behind (along with her clothes)—do nothing to assuage Nat’s queasy feeling that something is very wrong.

As Nat starts to dig into Beth’s past more, she finds out that Beth may have been hiding quite a few things—but could she actually be dead? And if so, who could have killed her? Kent does a great job at building suspense, and by the time it’s revealed who actually dunnit, I suspected just about everyone (well, except Nat).

For those looking for a fast-paced thriller, this is not your book. This is the very definition of slow-burn suspense. The first half does a lot to flesh out the main characters, and Kent digs pretty deep into the plight of the elderly Victor.

I loved Nat’s focus on finding out what happened to Beth—a focus born of the love that you have for a true friend, a woman that lit up a room and commanded attention, who had been there for Nat when she needed her the most.

When Nat had left Jim, she’d come for the key to the cottage and Beth had been standing behind the bar, getting ready to open up. “Oh, love,” she’d said, watching Nat pile her bags and boxes inside the door. Then she’d shoved up the counter and come through it and hugged her, long and hard.

And now she was gone and with her the sense of something gone forever: Beth wouldn’t have wanted that, not to just—disappear, not for things to move on without her. But she was gone.

This nuanced mystery will reward patient readers and those longing for a story with characters that you’ll genuinely care for. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a creepy killer lurking at the edges of the small village, waiting for a chance to pounce. Christobel Kent has a reputation for intelligent, creepy novels, and it’s well earned.

 

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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at mybookishways.com, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.

Comments

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