9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Very Literary Mystery,
This review is from: What Was Lost (Paperback)
Set in Birmingham in the mid-80s, this is the story of an adolescent girl named Kate who feels different from the rest of the girls her age. She's not interested in playing frivolous games or fashionable clothes. What she aspires to become is a great detective. With the help of a beginner's manual and her toy monkey, she attempts to set up a detective agency. She spends most of her time practicing stake-outs, observing neighbourhood houses or people passing banks while making meticulous notes in her diary. She strives ardently to catch out sneaky criminals and make a name for herself. After a series of family tragedies, Kate unexpectedly finds herself to be at the centre of a mystery. The story leaps forward in time and we meet Kurt and Lisa. They are two people who work for the enormous Green Oaks shopping centre which appears to be swallowing the business of the entire city. Vaguely discontent with their lives, they deliver sharp critiques of their consumerist culture, but are uncertain how to detach themselves from it. A strange ghost of a girl begins appearing in the service corridors of Green Oaks and the pair are entangled in a mystery which stretches back many years.
O'Flynn writes beautifully about adolescent experience without being simplistic or condescending. Rather, she uses her young character to highlight the absurdities of some adult behaviour, critique the culture she is being raised in and peek into the tumultuous private lives of the people around her. The author has a light touch, delivering a story that is both funny (I particularly enjoyed the hysterical increasingly-frenzied mystery shopper reports delivered near the end of the novel) and movingly serious at different times. She also has constructed a compelling mystery which kept me quickly reading along to find out what happens. The thing which elevates this book above a more generic mystery story is its sharp observations about modern urban life, the way in which it captures how people can be caught in a profit-driven corporate machine and be reduced to marketing tools. The book also uses a creative array of narrative voices which deliver snippets from a wide range of perspectives and it shows a deep compassion for individuals caught in mediocre jobs. What Was Lost is a thoroughly enjoyable read.