The body of a dead seal attracts photographer Abby Mason’s attention as she walks along the beach. Pausing to photograph it, she takes her attention of her soon-to-be-step-daughter, six-year-old Emma, for just a moment. When she looks up, Emma is gone.
The search for Emma occupies all of Abby’s attention. Though the police suspect she was swept out to sea by one of the treacherous waves San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is known for, Abby knows Emma’s been abducted and is alive, somewhere. She goes over every detail of the people and vehicles in the car park, searching her memories for anyone who was interested in Emma or otherwise suspicious. As her career slides away, taking her relationship with Emma’s father with it, Abby is unable to focus on anything else. How can she waste two hours on a film when that time could be spent finding Emma?
This is a fascinating and brilliantly written book that I found, though reminiscent of both Jacqueline Michard's Deep End of the Ocean and Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World, wholly an individual work. Richmond imbues the novel, from the first line, with Abby's twinned sense of guilt and resolve. Through her first person, real time narrative, we learn about the characters but also about the huge significance seemingly inconsequential incidents can have, and how the past echoes in the present.
All of which sounds a little mystical, and it isn't really, but greater clarity would ruin the impact of much of the novel's twist. That said, I did spot the twist well
in advance, and I found the South American section a little far-fetched. But Richmond's pace and style, the character of Abby and the strength of mission, overcame these aspects and so diminished their influence of the enjoyment of my reading.
I often babysit the children of my friends and the fear of something happening to them while in my care is always quietly in the background. I still remember navigating around a supermarket with a trolley and pram containing Lynn's eldest about 15 years ago, convinced that if I left him unobserved for a moment someone would steal him (for I am a drama queen of the highest level). Richmond has beautifully articulated and expanded on this fear, and carried it through to a bitter-sweet end. I look forward to tracking down her first novels, and whatever she releases next. - Alex