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Cath Staincliffe’s body of work covers the world of the female private eye (Sal Kilkenny), the female detective (Janine Lewis of Blue Murder), novels based on the Scott & Bailey TV series and standalone titles of psychological fiction. In these standalone novels Staincliffe explores moral dilemmas with ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. It is here that the author carves out her unique selling point: a focus on the impact of crime on its victims.
Following the outstanding Letters to My Daughter’s Killer comes Half the World Away and every parent’s gap-year nightmare crystallising into reality. Fresh from graduation, Lorelei Maddox travels for a year and stays on in China where she finds work as a private English tutor. The wonders of technology keep her in touch with her separated parents Jo and Tom: phone, text and her blog “Lori in the Orient”. But suddenly all communication stops.
With the help of a charity specialising in missing persons overseas, Jo and Tom then travel out to Chengdu in Sichuan, China, and follow in Lori’s last known footsteps. Here, where they are the foreigners and everything is foreign to them, the pair are forced to turn detective.
Half the World Away is a tale perfectly executed on tramlines of terrifically taut suspense. Staincliffe writes simply, resulting in very direct prose that cuts to the bone when it comes to emotion. Pressures from home follow Jo out to China and this mother’s love for all her three children rises from the page.
At its heart Half the World Away is a story about the fiercely protective love of a mother: when and how to allow freedom and when to claw back; what lengths a mother will go to when something goes wrong.
“Before I sleep I ring Lori’s phone and get the ‘It has not been possible to connect you, please try again later’ announcement. I will, I always do. I can’t even leave her a message. But I keep hoping. Hope is all there is.”
That hope is felt by the reader and it’s impossible to put the book down until the final page.
This review first appeared in the Catholic Herald.
Publisher: Constable; Publication Date: 4 June 2015; ISBN: 1472117972.