Book Review – How To Disappear by Gillian McAllister

Pages: 451
Published: 9th July 2020
Genre: Domestic Thriller
Trigger warnings: Online abuse

Lauren’s daughter Zara witnessed a terrible crime. But speaking up comes with a price, and when Zara’s identity is revealed online, it puts a target on her back.

The only choice is to disappear. From their family, their friends, even from Lauren’s husband. No goodbyes. Just new names, new home, new lives. One mistake – a text, an Instagram like – could bring their old lives crashing into the new.

As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy. Staying hidden is much harder . . .

This is a book with a captivating concept and relentlessly high stakes. From beginning to end, the suspense levels are immense as it traverses multiple perspectives and delves deep into dark and unknowable territory with an addictive plot. Indeed, had the level of storytelling and one or two other elements been slightly more on point, this could really have been an outstanding read.

Although the plot is the most memorable and preeminent aspect of the book, there is an equally sharp focus on character, with several interesting themes added to the mix. It is also a very modern thriller, in which social media and the power of the internet plays a major part, serving to heighten the tension and perpetuate the sense of oncoming danger the protagonists feel.

The story begins in court, where Zara, a teenage girl, is anonymously giving evidence in the trial of two young footballers who she witnessed killing a homeless man. They are charged with murder, but Zara falters under cross-examination and it emerges that the two men were acting in self defence, causing the trial to collapse.

In the aftermath, an online group launches a vicious campaign to find Zara and punish her for accusing the footballers and ruining their career prospects. It does not take them long, and after a series of threatening incidents the police recommend that she, her mother Lauren, and her stepfather Aidan, be placed under witness protection.

It all happens very quickly. Within days, Zara and Lauren are given new identities and made to leave London for somewhere far away, removing all trace of their previous lives. Aidan elects to stay as he cannot leave his biological daughter Poppy, but he continues to protect them from afar as the Find Girl A group refuses to end its vengeful pursuit.

The concept of witness protection made for an intriguing read and it is depicted with great detail, albeit with a sizeable helping of creative licence. For obvious reasons, little is known about witness protection beyond those involved, but although a lot of the story is essentially made up, it still seems to carry a very reasonable degree of authenticity.

This is a truly multi-layered book, and that is demonstrated most effectively by the emphasis placed on the sacrifices the characters have to make upon assuming their new identity. They must remove all existing trace of themselves, and as she leaves, Lauren knows that she will never see her husband or sister again. This is impactful, and we also see the pain felt by the ones they leave behind.

It is interesting to see how Lauren and Zara struggle to adjust to their new lives. They are mindful that they cannot say anything about who they really are, which makes it difficult for them to build relationships or feel at all comfortable in their new location. This is particularly true in the case of Zara, a shy girl who desperately wants to fit in. One mistake could prove fatal, and they are not sure who they can trust.

The first thing that caught my attention was that the story is written entirely in the third person, which represents an almost total departure from Gillian McAllister’s previous books. That does not mean there is less in the way of character development, but it does switch POVs slightly too frequently for my liking.

It is told from the perspectives of Lauren and Zara, as well as those of Aidan and Poppy. I felt like I got to know each of these characters pretty well, but I did not truly connect with any of them. I did find myself empathising with Zara a lot; after all she is quiet and loves books, but there are times where her behaviour is quite erratic for no obvious reason, which left me with more mixed feelings.

Much of the story actually focuses on the relationship between Lauren and Aidan, who share a very close bond and are torn apart by events. Aidan is really compelling, and it was in his chapters where I was most eager to read on and find out would happen. I found Lauren difficult to like, as all she seemed to do was complain, even allowing for her circumstances.

Poppy was another character who I liked in some ways but not in others. She at least has a caring personality and a very good dynamic with her best friend Emily. I would have liked to have known more about some of the other supporting cast, such as Jon from the protection service, and the police officer, Lottie.

The only problem about having four POVs all written in the third person is that it makes them feel a little bit too similar in atmosphere and tone. There is no real uniqueness in any of the characters’ voices and despite the menacing feel that is completely tangible throughout, there was just something about the storytelling that did not overly appeal to me.

This is strange, because I have loved all of Gillian McAllister previous books and had no such problems. But the similes are still there, sprinkled among its pages along with a handful of settings that never feel like safe havens. When Lauren and Zara leave London, it is as though they are isolated; cut off from the rest of the world.

Overall, this is a thriller that packs a lot in, from a gripping plot to a wealth of perspectives. There are heaps of tension contained within every chapter and every page, which will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are certain areas that I did not like quite so much, but it will also leave a lasting impression.

A book that I mostly enjoyed, and I certainly cannot complain about the tension levels. The plot was great, but not always the execution.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5


22 thoughts on “Book Review – How To Disappear by Gillian McAllister

  1. I COMPLETELY AGREEE!! Multiple third person POVs can feel a bit repetitive and indistinguishable! For my part, I far rather enjoy first person povs when there are multiple ones involved. I saw that happen in The Cry of The Lake by Charlie Tyler and MAN DID IT MAKE THE EXPERIENCE SO MUCH MORE AUTHENTIC AND GRIPPING!! 😍😍😍😱😱 I am telling you Stephen, you gotta read that one, since you enjoy thrillers and dark mysteries!! 😍 YOU WON’T REGRET IT I PROMISE!!

    Apart from that, this one does seem like a fast paced thriller with good characters and plot – you really did it justice with your review! I LOVED READING YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT! πŸ˜‡πŸ¦‹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Rain! I’m glad you agree and yes, I prefer firat person when we have multiple POVs, or perhaps a mixture of both. It was surprising because this author has always done first person POVs in her previous books.

      Thank you for the recommendation! πŸ₯° I’ll definitely check out The Cry of the Lake!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This book certainly contains some interesting elements and I like how the author included the concept of witness protection as it is not represented enough in the mystery/thriller category. It’s also interesting how thrillers written in the third person which switch POVs too much can sometimes have a negative effect on the overall feel of the story and it’s a shame that happened with this book. Great review as always, Stephen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Darina! There are a lot of interesting things in this book and the witness protection element makes it very gripping. I would have preferred at least one of the narratives to have been in first person so I could possibly connect with the characters slightly more, but I still think it’s a book you might enjoy πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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