I found What Was Lost (winner of the Costa First Novel Award) in the clearance section of Borders for $3.00 and had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. It’s a mystery, broken into 4 sections that move between past and present. The first section focuses on Kate Meaney, a junior detective who lives with her single father. She’s super independent and a bit of a loner compared to other girls her age. Her best friends are a stuffed monkey and Adrian, the teenage son of a local sweetshop owner, who was the first person to “hire” her detective services. She has a sleuthing route she follows daily, including a bus ride and surveillance at a local mall, watching for suspicious activity and persons. Then on page 68, her narrative ends abruptly.
The next section of the book focuses on Lisa, Adrian’s older sister, who works at Your Music in the same mall Kate used to visit, and Kurt, a mall security guard. It turns out that Kate had disappeared years ago and though no one was ever convicted and she was never found, Adrian was the prime suspect in her disappearance. He too disappeared shortly afterward, but mails something to Lisa every year on her birthday as a way of telling her he’s still alive. But in the meantime, while working at the mall, Kurt keeps seeing an image of a little girl holding a monkey in the video monitors…and Lisa finds a stuffed monkey hidden in the service corridors of the mall. This is the longest section of the book and it drags just a bit. But the last two sections are super short and they tie together the first two sections to solve the mystery behind Kate’s disappearance.
I loved O’Flynn’s writing style and knack for details–I actually laughed out loud a number times, especially in the first section where Kate is describing her experiences with classmates and sleuthing. For instance, to describe a crazy rumor spreading through Kate’s school, O’Flynn wrote, “The children, incapable of processing such explosive gossip, could only run around in circles or jump up and down wildly, like dogs in a storm.” I also love that Kate reminded of my favorite character/book from childhood, Harriet the Spy, which I’ve read a million times. I still remember Harriet inspiring me to walk around my block with a notebook, inspecting my neighbor’s recycle bins for clues about their lives, and Kate is even more impressive than Harriet.
I think I’ll read What Was Lost again at some point…now that I know the outcome, it will probably be even better the second time around. It’s a must read mystery that’s funny, sad and touching all at the same time.