When Corinne Sawyer leaves her lover Sam in bed to go on her routine morning run she couldn’t be happier. She knows she is beautiful, that the money she has spent on perfecting her look has been worth it. That she will turn heads. And that she does. But unfortunately for Corinne she seems to have attracted the wrong kind of attention.
When Zigic and Ferreira are called to the park by DCI , they have to wonder quite how the murder of a middle aged woman would possibly have anything to do with them and the Hate Crimes unit. Everyone knows that several women in the area have been victims of serious sexual assault and to their mind this must be just an escalation in the perpetrators M.O. At least until they realise that this particular woman is not all she seems. Because the victim, Corinne, is transgender, half way through transitioning from male to female.
When trying to find a motive for the murder, the team are drawn back to a serious assault upon a trans woman that they had investigated the previous year. This is just one in what appears to be a number of brutal attacks on trans women. Was Corinne simple another victim of the same vicious and transphobic thug? Or did the park rapist simply go too far, attacking Corinne before realising that he had got more than he bargained for?
Or are the Corinne’s family somehow involved? Their relationship with their former husband and father is somewhat fractious, with only Corinne’s youngest daughter truly forgiving of her decision to make the change permanent. It’s clear they are hiding something, but could one of them really have killed a person that they used to love so dearly?
With pressure coming upon them from all angles, and with the sensitive nature of the case bringing it to the forefront of national interest, Zigic and Ferreira have to find a way to make members of a very private community talk. Many of them are living double lives, not wanting friends and family to know the other side of their personality, but their reluctance to come forward may prove fatal.
If you are looking for a book which challenges assumptions and prejudices and tackles a very difficult subject in both a sensitive and yet brutally honest way then look no further. ‘Watch Her Disappear’ is the skilfully crafted tale of family at war with itself and the impact on them all of the decision by the family’s patriarch, Colin Sawyer, to finally allow himself to become his ‘true self’ Corinne. It is also a sharp and brilliantly observed look at a misunderstood community, one which still struggles to find a safe place amongst the still rife prejudice and intolerance of modern society.
I love that this series is a step away from a standard police procedural and that it tackles the little covered and almost taboo subject of hate crimes. It is a difficult subject to cover well but Eva Dolan has certainly achieved it and has spared no punches here. Every part of this book rings with authenticity, from the sniggering and base humour from certain members of the police force whose nervousness means they struggle to understand how to deal with this most unusual of cases, to the slips and misunderstandings between referring to the victim as a him or a her. Physically Corinne was somewhere in between and yet she thought of herself and lived as a woman, but to the ignorant and the prejudiced she was very much still a man.
There is something very honest about the tone of this text. There are no big bangs, no leaps of faith, no circumventing procedure (well only a little bit) which gives the book almost more bite as a result. The way it is written, sitting within and following the thoughts of the main characters as they navigate their respective parts of the investigation, gives you a sense of the confusion of the family and friends, and the weariness, both physical and mental, of our main protagonists. There is also a mystery voice, one of the trans assault victims, who remains unnamed until the end. It is this voice which is the most tragic, the most conflicted and potentially the only one to garner any real sympathy from the reader.
That may seem a strange thing to say when you consider that we start this story with Corinne’s murder. Surely this woman also deserves our sympathy? And yet this is part of the beauty of this book because the victim is as contemptuous as she is sympathetic, some of her actions very hard to believe or forgive and the more we learn about Corinne, or even Colin, the more we can see a long line of potential suspects starting to form. So perhaps the sympathy should be saved for Corinne’s family. For her young daughter forced to face the loss of her ‘mum’ or to her partner Sam who is devastated by her death. Maybe her former wife, her older daughter or her son, all of whom are affected by her death. Or perhaps her best friend Bryn, a man who for years had seen Colin as a brother. Or maybe they are all as bad as each other, all hiding behind a wall of lies and all as guilty as each other of an ultimate intolerance. They are all, in their way, slightly vile. Spoilt. It makes them very hard to like and very hard to care for.
And yet this story is compelling. Zigic and Ferreira are two very strong and likeable characters. Ferreira is battling her own demons throughout, sometimes losing focus as a result and constantly questioning her relationship choices, and yet she is driven to resolve the case at all costs. She feels vulnerable when a decision she makes appears to have dire consequences, but she is focused and her strength of character drives her onward. I really like her. She is human; ultimately vulnerable but with a spiky and independent edge to her character. And Zigic? Well he’s fighting his own personal battle driven by a lack of sleep owing to his baby daughter whose sleep patterns pay no heed of his shifts at work. It gives him a kind of world weariness but doesn’t dull his senses too much and he has a no nonsense approach which endears him to the reader.
There are so many elements to this book that it brought out in me a range of emotions. Shock, fear, sympathy, anger are all present as well as a kind of nervous guilt as you recognise a little of yourself in parts of the characters Dolan has created. From the tense opening, to the brutality of the attacks, the vehemence and hatred of the family to the political posturing of those keen to use Corinne’s murder to make a statement about the transgender community no matter the cost, your mind and your heart will be pulled from pillar to post. It certainly made me think about any misconceptions and assumptions I may have made in the past about this particular subject and the fact that the so called tolerant society we live in that can still marginalise such a large section of the community through basic fear and misunderstanding. Any book which can do that is a true gift to a reader.
it is a very absorbing and entertaining read, one which I heartily recommend. Just, leave your prejudice outside the front cover. This book, this series, deserves a very open, broad and understanding mind.
A prejudice challenging 5 stars.
The Official Book Blurb
YOU CAN RUN FROM YOUR PAST. BUT YOU CAN’T RUN FROM MURDER.
The body is found by the river, near a spot popular with runners.
With a serial rapist at work in the area, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are initially confused when the Hate Crimes Unit is summoned to the scene. Until they discover that the victim, Corinne Sawyer, was born Colin Sawyer.
Police records reveal there have been violent attacks on trans women in the local area. Was Corinne a victim of mistaken identity? Or has the person who has been targeting trans women stepped up their campaign of violence? With tensions running high, and the force coming under national scrutiny, this is a complex case and any mistake made could be fatal…
My thanks to author Eva Dolan and publishers Harvill Secker for the advance copy of this book. Watch Her Disappear is released on 26th January and is available to purchase at the following links: