The Missing by Tim Gautreaux

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The Missing by Tim Gautreaux

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A young, American World War One veteran suffers guilty pangs and takes it upon himself to search for a missing child in the world of prohibition, steamboats and Louisiana Jazz. The most absorbing plot and setting are married perfectly, and this is instantly in that 'too good for the awards' category.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-0340977941

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Sam Simoneaux lands as an American soldier in France on the morning of the armistice. He still sees some of the horrors of what went on, working as a munitions clearer on one of the countless battlefields. A couple of years later, back home, he is working in a large New Orleans department store, when a young girl is snatched from within the shop. Feeling a charm for the broken family he can slightly recognise due to his experiences and circumstances, and a little guilt, he decides he should enter the world of the parents until he finds the girl. Even if this is a hard and hardening world where no-one has time to do anything for anyone else.

What follows is a note perfect drama set so brightly in the Jazz age. The parents of the missing Lily are entertainers and workers on the steamboats that break prohibition laws (and racial hang-ups), as they cram thousands on their decks, take them midstream and let them bop away to the new New Orleans sounds of jazz.

Tim Gautreaux is one of my favourite authors, based only on the one other book of his I have read – The Clearing. It was the first instance of the book review gods giving me something I wouldn't normally pick up, and surprising me so strongly that they and their choices could be a successful way of me selecting my reading. Six years on, the long wait for his next novel is finally over, and you can regret little of that wait on these results.

He has a brilliant way of putting you down in a place and perhaps a time you might not expect to choose for your reading, and evokes them so expertly and deftly. There is a completely reassuring richness to the settings he gives us, without his ever seeming to struggle to portray anything in a concise manner. At the same time he gives us a securely thrilling plotline, using rounded, likeable characters, and never lets slip the need to entertain.

In this instance the early Jazz age is told better than ever I have come across it, and the familiar story of a young man exploring a new career is given such depth with the thrillerish elements of the kidnapped three year old. It never reads like research turned to fiction, nor rings false with its evocation of the down and dirty places the paddlesteamer visits. At the same time it is a great character study of the young Sam, with his history, dark mission for a present, and unknown future. Again there's no over-eager effort on the author's part to put Sam across to us. Throughout, the plot is spot on, giving the reader many a surprise, and many a disarming authorial decision. The midway mark is one obvious one – a turning point you will not expect.

It's not an utterly perfect novel – but then, what is? I would compare the subtle, easy way Sam bears his ironic nickname of Lucky with the instances of the book saying something like 'ooh, what was this new feeling? It was the feeling he got from being altruistic'. Gautreaux goes slightly OTT when showing us how OTT World War One was. But in the percentage style of those review-of-reviews the internet throws up, this book for me rates in the high nineties.

On balance it's designed not so much as a thriller, nor as a character piece in particular, but as a work of high drama with most amenable style. The result is entertaining to the final page – there is some humour, and a host of surprise and insight in every chapter.

I have one fear regarding the book. I can accept it won't win any awards that are known to us here in the UK, and so will not get the sales fillip that that might provide. But I dread what might happen if one of our idiotic British newspapers picks it up, declares 'you cannot have a novel with a stolen young girl called Madeline by her 'new parents' and makes it a news story.

The only newsworthy thing about this book is that it absorbs with setting, characters and above all gripping plot so confidently that I have to recommend this book to all most heartily. If only Gautreaux was as esteemed a name as Cormac McCarthy's.

We at the Bookbag must thank the publishers for our review copy.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul.

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Buy The Missing by Tim Gautreaux at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Missing by Tim Gautreaux at


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