Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review of A Savage Hunger by Claire McGowan (Headline, 2016)

Alice Morgan has seemingly been abducted from an isolated church. There is blood on the floor and a holy relic is missing. The young student had been studying at a small third level college dedicated to educating troubled students. In Alice’s case she’s an anorexic who has spent much of her time at boarding school or in a rehab clinic, sent away by her government minister father and unloving mother. Neither her fellow students or the college seems concerned about Alice’s absence and there appear few clues as to Alice’s fate. And to add to mystery she vanishes on the anniversary of the disappearance of another woman thirty two years before. The former missing person’s unit of Ballyterrin’s police force is asked to investigate, including forensic psychologist, Paula Maguire. Maguire is due to be married in a couple of weeks, but she is no fan of weddings and is obsessed with finding missing people since the disappearance of her mother when she was a teenager.  To make life interesting her former boss and lover has been drafted in by Alice’s father to help with the case. With the pressure rising at work and at home, Maguire struggles to make sense of the disappearance and to track down the missing student.

A Savage Hunger is the fourth book in the Paula Maguire series set in Northern Ireland’s borderlands. Maguire is a forensic psychologist who specializes in finding missing people. In this outing Maguire helps the PSNI try to find a young university student, Alice Morgan, who is anorexic and is studying at a small third level college dedicated to educating other troubled students. Competing for Maguire’s attention is her upcoming wedding, which she’s been dreading. To add to unease, her ex-boss and possible father to her two-year old child is flown over from London to help with the case at the request of Alice’s father, a government minister. What follows is a soap opera held together with an endless parade of plot devices, both with respect to Maguire’s person life and Alice’s disappearance. While the resultant story is okay on its terms – McGowan is clearly aiming for a soap opera – neither Maguire’s home life nor the case is particularly satisfying given all the plot devices. In addition, the running commentary from Alice is a bit of a distraction and at the start of the novel especially takes away some mystery. For me this is the weakest book in the series so far and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing on with book five or not yet – personally, I’d like the balance of focus to shift back from Maguire’s personal life to the procedural elements and the case under investigation but given the setups for the next book that doesn't seem likely.

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