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The Missing Years


The Missing Years

Scottish author Lexie Elliott burst onto the scene last year with her terrific debut psychological thriller, THE FRENCH GIRL. Being born literally at the foot of the Scottish Highlands makes her an expert navigator for the setting of her second novel, THE MISSING YEARS.

Skating the thin literary ice that separates psychological thriller from supernatural thriller is not easy, but Elliott makes it seem so, and keeps the reader off-balance right up until the very last pages. The book opens with a page featuring a short paragraph that I initially mistook for an author dedication --- an easy mistake to make since it began with “My father...”  Once I got to the second chapter and found a different dedication to a father, I quickly surmised that it had to do with the story.  Boy, does it ever have to do with the story.

When Ailsa Calder's mother dies, she inherits half of the house at which she spent her early years. The other half belongs to her father, who disappeared without a trace 27 years ago. In fact, the lead-in to each succeeding chapter is supposed to be the various speculations Ailsa has dreamt up for what happened to her father and where he might actually be. She is still a young woman and has lived most of her life without a father. Both he and the Scottish Highlands manor named the Manse are mostly foreign to her. Nevertheless, she packs a bag and leaves her London flat to head to the Manse to decide what she wants to do with it.

"The only time that is actually lost will be the time belonging to readers, who will be poring through this outstanding psychological thriller long past their bedtime."

As soon as Ailsa arrives, she has the eerie feeling that the Manse is watching her, almost expectantly, welcoming her back. Waiting for her there is her half-sister, Carrie, with whom she always had a good relationship but does not know as well as she would like. To add to her already unsettled feelings, the first night Ailsa is in the Manse she wakes up to see a strange man in the hallway. He turns out to be Jamie McCue, a nearby neighbor who did not realize that Ailsa was in the house and apologizes for trespassing. He is looking for his sister, Fiona, who is prone to having mental lapses, especially concerning loss of time, and is often found wandering the Manse.

Ailsa accepts Jamie's story but still makes a personal note to have the locks changed. When she ventures out into the town in search of a place to exercise, she visits the Kingrossie Hotel. Once she lets on that she is a Calder who has come to claim the Manse, she notices some odd stares and whispers. She is then verbally accosted by an elderly woman, Morag, who shouts that she had some nerve coming back here. It is no surprise that Ailsa would happily sell the Manse and leave all this madness behind her. Unfortunately, only owning half the house prevents her from making the decision on her own, and Carrie seems to really like it there.

Odd occurrences continue to happen at the Manse. A copy of a newspaper from October 1983, about a month after Ailsa’s father went missing, turns up on the front doorstep. She also takes note that no animal seems to ever cross the border onto their property, even though there are many dogs in the area. This eventually leads to the corpses of various animals, like small birds, being left on the front porch as well. On another evening, Ailsa is awoken by the din of the smoke alarm. There is no fire, though, and the alarm stops on its own --- but not before bodies of dead flies mixed in with a few live ones rain down on her head. Even more troublesome is that when she goes to show Carrie what happened, there is not a single dead fly to be found anywhere.

At around this point in the novel, you would start to wonder if these events are indeed supernatural or if someone is trying to drive Ailsa crazy. As she begins to dig further into her father's background, she finds that the investigating officer at the time of his disappearance was Glen McCue, Jamie and Fiona’s father. Glen is still around but retired from the force. Ailsa also befriends some other residents closer to her age who are willing to share local gossip with her. This is how she learns that the condition Fiona suffers from is called dyschronometria. Rumor also has it that anyone staying at the Manse is known to lose track of time.

As Ailsa begins to look into concepts previously foreign to her, like “folding of time,” the most eerie and bizarre events take place. First, a bunch of human bones are found beneath Carrie's bed. Then, in shocking fashion, Ailsa wakes up one night to find a human skull in her own bed. Do these bones have any significance, or could they be those of her missing father? I will leave it at that as Lexie Elliott has several more revelations and tricks up her sleeve that keep THE MISSING YEARS ticking along, page after page. The only time that is actually lost will be the time belonging to readers, who will be poring through this outstanding psychological thriller long past their bedtime.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 3, 2019

The Missing Years
by Lexie Elliott