The story opens in Kielder forest where Geordie a forestry worker, whose life has been shattered by the disappearance of his young stepson, is doing some back-breaking work. Two young girls subsequently go missing and all three children are from different backgrounds. Norman is a newly appointed children's tsar who, due to a government reshuffle and a change of priorities in the department in which he is employed, has no real work to do but spends his days attending official functions, drinking lattes and enjoying lunch. A local reporter desperate for the "big story" that will make his name, discovers Norman's existence and forces him to engage with the disappearance of the three children. Meanwhile the local police have classified the missing kids as runaways. I won't describe the plot any further in deference to those who have yet to read the book.
I have enjoyed most of Paul Torday's other books and The Girl on the Landing was quite dark but this novel is in a different league in terms of darkness. I was completely absorbed by the the first half of the book but found the latter half disappointing. The supernatural/religious themes were driven home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and I found the embalming and taxidermy elements of this novel difficult. The characters seemed a bit clichéd to me and the final chapters might have benefited from some judicious pruning.
Reading of the little boy born with such severe facial deformity that even his family could not bear to look at him, was singularly distressing notwithstanding what later transpires.
Nevertheless, this book has its moments and Paul Torday does write very well.