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J K Gunne
J.K. Gunne, author
An elderly widower teams up with a young charismatic vlogger to find his stolen grandchild. When Denny Barrett moved in with his son’s family in Brussels he left behind a world of violence in Belfast, where his brother, a notorious gang leader, was shot dead outside Denny’s house. Denny is content to be able to live peacefully with his son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Chantal, as well as their teen children, Romain and Aisling, but he has a special affection for the family’s endearing youngest child, cheeky 5-year-old Sarah. One day, while at the market with her, a momentarily distracted Denny realizes she has disappeared. The police are unable to find her. Family members respond differently, with Chantal falling into depression and Brian obsessively looking for Sarah everywhere. Weighed down with guilt, Denny starts to drink. One day, a year later, he suddenly thinks he spots Sarah in a van but his rum-muddled head is confused. He eventually tells Romain. Together with a friend, Julie Desforges, an international vlogger, Romain takes the hunt online. Gradually they come to suspect a paedophile ring where children are bought and sold. Romain is reluctant to tell the police, having unearthed on the deep web suspicions of an earlier probe of the ring beiing blocked. Thirteen years later we meet Sarah again under a different name. She was taken by Julie Desforges to Sri Lanka and brought up believing her family to have been killed by a terrorist group in retaliation for the shooting of Denny’s brother in Belfast. She is a happy and confident 18-year-old, walking as a tourist through Paris, when she is accosted outside her hotel by an old family friend who has tracked her down. He explains why he has been searching for her and tells her that her family are alive and well. Sarah agrees to return with him to meet them again in Brussels. “An exceptional missing-person’s tale that wisely centers on the emotional fallout.” Kirkus Reviews.
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.75 out of 10


Plot: Smith's smart and riveting thriller expertly blends sociopolitical themes with a central mystery of a kidnapped child in Brussels, its agonizing aftermath, and a quest to uncover the truth behind her abduction.

Prose: Prose is seamlessly constructed and polished. Smith writes in a clear-headed, understated manner, carrying the story forward with gradual, seasoned pacing. Dialogue--including in scenes featuring multiple characters--is vivid and purposeful.

Originality: The investigation into cyber crime and pedophilia/human trafficking is a common topic of exploration, but the story's Brussels setting, the protagonist's Belfast roots, and the frequent integration of global politics, allows for a more distinctive, far-ranging, and insightful perspective.

Character Development: Protagonist Denny--in his exile from his Belfast home--is an especially sympathetic, flawed, and vulnerable character. His pain over his granddaughter's disappearance under his watch is palpable. Additional characters, even those on the periphery, are expertly handled.

Date Submitted: June 30, 2019