Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Quick Review - MISSING

Missing by Karin Alvtegen
Published – 2000
Translated from Swedish by Anna Paterson

Though born to a wealthy family, Sybilla Forsenstrom has for 15 years been homeless by choice. She has no address, no identifying papers, and is invisible among the other homeless in Stockholm. Her one tie to her unhappy past is a monthly stipend she receives from her mother--providing she remains invisible. She has been scrupulously saving the money, for her big dream is to buy a small place of her own in the country.

With all her possessions and necessities in backpack and briefcase, Sybilla moves about the city and countryside like a shadow. She has learned all the tricks: how to travel free, where she can find washing facilities, places where she can warm herself during harsh Swedish winters. She resides for weeks at a time in cottages whose owners are away, and leaves no trace she was there.

Occasionally she dons her one good outfit and dines in an upscale hotel, acting as a businesswoman on the road, charming and conning male travelers into paying for her meal and room. For years the game has gone well. A good meal quells her constant hunger, a luxurious room ensures one night of warmth, a fragrant bath, and comfortable sleep.

Then her mark is murdered in his hotel room, his body mutilated. Sybilla was the last person seen with the victim. Her fingerprints are on his key card. This "evidence" combined with mental problems she had in the past makes her an easy suspect. The only suspect.

Too frightened to go to the police, Sybilla is on the run. When a second and then a third man is killed in a similar gruesome manner, she becomes the most wanted serial killer in Sweden. The story of her troubled youth screams from newspaper headlines and across television screens.

She hides in a school attic to rest and regroup, and there meets fifteen year old Patric, a similarly isolated loner. Over the course of several days they become trusted friends, and when a fourth murder is committed, Patric vows to help her prove her innocence.

Proficient using computers, able to hack into police files, Patric learns names of people who might be involved in the murders. He and Sybilla follow up on the leads, with Sybilla dipping into her precious fund to pay expenses.

As they get closer to the truth, Sybilla, worried about Patric's future should his involvement with her become known, strikes out on her own and bravely confronts the killer.

Deftly plotted, Missing is both suspenseful thriller and detailed psychological study of a gritty survivor. Sybilla's struggles are interwoven with flashbacks of her unhappy childhood trying desperately to please cold and distant parents, and the culmination of harrowing events that drove her to become one of the Missing.

Conclusion: I enjoyed reading Sybilla's story. I was fully engaged and admired her intelligence and her determination to overcome enormous obstacles and live free. Many books I read and soon forget; this one has stayed with me.