Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Headline Book Publishing
I must confess that I couldn’t bring myself to read Long Lost by David Morrell for a very long time. Being a mother of two very young children and an aunt to two young boys, the thought of a child disappearing like that never to show up again in the parent’s lifetime was enough to give me the creeps.
It was only recently that I made the supreme effort of rejecting my fears as mere superstition and began to read the novel. As expected, it was a racy thrill of a ride.
The very first paragraph compels us into a sense of urgency with the information that Petey is missing. Add to that a sense of guilt from the hurt look that Petey gives his older brother of whom he thought the world, and we are already in the thick of the action.
Nine-year-old Petey Dennings begins to bicycle home after being snubbed by 13-year-old older brother Brad for getting in the way at a baseball game. But Petey never gets home.
There is no demand for ransom and his body is never found. Brad’s life spirals downward with his mother and father getting addicted to sleeping pills and alcohol respectively, and losing their home life and the house, and the father dying in a car accident shortly after that.
Nearly 25 years later, Brad is a successful architect and is interviewed on TV, where information about the disappearance of his brother years ago is revealed. Of the many cons that claim to be the missing Petey, one man stands out for the accuracy and truth of the revelations of the past he makes, stuff that only Petey could have known. And that is how Peter, a drifter, sometime construction labourer, becomes a part of the lives of Brad, his wife Kate, and their son, Jason.
The couple, propelled largely by the sense of finally assuaged guilt that Brad has carried for so long, and a genuine affection for the brother he lost and found, go out of their way to make Petey feel at home, and to help him to work his way up again.
On a camping trip, Brad, Petey and Jason try to recreate the magic of a summer camp the two brothers had gone on with their Dad. Brad has no idea how drastically things will go wrong. When Petey pushes him down a gorge and disappears with Jason and Kate, it is the beginning of Brad’s worst nightmare.
In an attempt to find his brother and his family, Brad gets into the character of his brother, forcing himself to think like Petey would have. The FBI’s investigations revealed that the man Brad thought of as Petey was in fact Lester Dant, but Brad is sure he is Petey who has assumed Dant’s identity.
For the next few years, Brad sells his business and takes up an itinerant lifestyle on the road, desperately making investigations, trying to retrace Petey’s steps and find his family. Travelling through a number of American states, Brad tries to make sense of who Petey had become.
But the struggle is elusive. Will he ever find his wife and son? And if he does, will they be alive?
Like Brad, we too feel a strong sense of “If Only.” We feel his frustration and misery at knowing that one selfish act in his childhood could have snowballed into such a terrible thing.
What I found impressive was the amount of research that Morrell has put into the novel. Research on any subject, regardless of whether it plays a deep role or not. The information on hypothermia, guns, investigation methods and con man practices, hiking trails etc are examples of this.
The writing for the most part, didn’t really stand out, but the chapter in which Morrell describes Brad’s hair-raising experience in the rest room with the man who may or may not have been a predator (as readers, we never quite know) caused my hair to stand on end.
The chapters are short, which helps to keep the pace going, and translates into an edgy experience. Through it all, one gets an understanding of Brad’s doggedness, his willingness to put his life on the line to rescue his family. The strength of his character, set against the delinquency of the antagonist, Petey, is what keeps the book going.
There is great attention to detail here. The action is high adrenaline as we, the readers, make Brad’s struggle our own.
Divided into six parts, each part takes us inexorably closer to the truth of where Petey was for the last 25 years, how he had been treated and what he had become. Every shocking discovery leading to something even more frightening.
Even though parts of the book seemed to stretch on too long, particularly the part where Brad describes his architecture practice and business, the book packed quite a punch.
This is clearly the stuff that good thrillers are made of.