Title: After Anna
Author: Alex Lake
Received for review from Killer Reads
Summary (from Goodreads)
A girl is missing. Five years old, taken from outside her school. She has vanished, traceless. The police are at a loss; her parents are beyond grief. Their daughter is lost forever, perhaps dead, perhaps enslaved. But the biggest mystery is yet to come: one week after she was abducted, their daughter is returned. She has no memory of where she has been. And this, for her mother, is just the beginning of the nightmare.
It’s a very visceral horror that this thriller deals in – the horror of losing a child and feeling it is your fault. I don’t have children, but of the nightmare scenarios that I can cook up, this is one of the worst – your daughter taken from the school gates while you rush to pick her up, late because of a meeting overrunning. Such a commonplace and unavoidable situation that should have ended with a disgruntled teacher and a bored child, turned horrific by someone’s malicious intentions. And this book is very clever, because it takes that situation and turns it on its head. As the tag line says: the real nightmare starts when her daughter is returned.
I spent most of After Anna feeling very much uncomfortable and on the edge of my seat. Julia, Anna’s mother, makes a very human and very understandable mistake, and as a reader we feel for her. She blames and hates herself, and we get that. But my feelings towards her never tipped into disliking her. She’s in some small way to blame, but it’s not a malicious or neglectful mistake – she’s a victim of a series of circumstances that were careless, perhaps, but not awful enough to warrant what she gets.
And what she gets is a torrent of abuse from keyboard warriors – people taking to twitter with only the newspaper’s understanding of the situation. Newspapers which have access to information that is being leaked by someone from within Julia’s inner circle. Facts and situations distorted to make the better story. Julia is trapped in a media maelstrom of opinion pieces that have taken up against her, and the commenters who think she deserves everything from sterilisation to death.
It’s a very modern thriller in this way. Like Gone Girl before it, it explores the power of the media, particularly social media, to influence public opinion. And it shows what can happen when someone with the nouse and the lack of remorse to manipulate it to their own ends is thrown into the mix.
Which brings us to Edna, Julia’s mother-in-law, who is a brilliant, if awful character. God, I would not like to have tried to be married to Edna’s son. She’s unpleasant and manipulative from the first page, driven by her own view about what’s best for her son and granddaughter – into which she does not factor Julia’s thoughts and feelings at all.
I won’t say any more. Like most thrillers, it’s best left for the reader to discover the plot. But with great ‘love-to-hate’ characters, a killer premise and nail biting tension, After Anna is a thrilling read that lovers of the genre, and those like me who dabble, will enjoy.