How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the latest book from Gillian McAllister, How To Disappear. True to form, this is the first book I have read by the author but what a read it was. My thanks to publisher Penguin who provided the advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Netgalley

About the Book

You can run, you can hide, but can you disappear for good?

Lauren’s daughter Zara witnessed a terrible crime. But speaking up comes with a price, and when Zara’s identity is revealed online, it puts a target on her back.

The only choice is to disappear.

To keep Zara safe, Lauren will give up everything and everyone she loves, even her husband.

There will be no goodbyes. Their pasts will be rewritten. New names, new home, new lives.

The rules are strict for a reason. They are being hunted. One mistake – a text, an Instagram like – could bring their old lives crashing into the new.

They can never assume someone isn’t watching, waiting.

As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy. Staying hidden is harder . . .

Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books | Hive

My Thoughts

Having finished this book just last night I think that I should set the record straight. I think the publishers have mis-titled this book. It really should be called ‘How Not To Disappear’ or ’10 Ways to Fail at Staying HIdden.’ Actually, it may be more than ten but who’s counting really? Let’s face it, if the characters involved had been half as good at keeping schtum about what is going on as they should be, the read wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic or intense as this book became at times, and would have been all the poorer for it.

I’m not sure I could imagine a worse fate than that which befalls Zara and her mother Lauren. Zara is the unwitting witness in a murder case, one who is determined to do right by the victim, no matter what, and as a result of her testimony finds herself the subject of hatred and threats at the hands of the alleged killers’ family and friends. To ensure that Zara remains safe, to prevent her meeting the same fate as the victim, they are forced to go into hiding – more accurately Witness Protection – and this is where the story divides between Lauren and Zara’s new life and the life of those left behind, including those who would do anything to find and silence Zara.

The author does a brilliant job of building the tension and keeping it taught throughout the novel. There are no surprises as to what is happening or who is targeting Zara, this is revealed fairly early on into the proceedings, but it is more the exploration of how they are seeking to find her, the kinds of tactics and programmes used to scour the internet for signs of either of them, that intrigue. That and the actions of those left behind to try and keep them safe. Whilst we do know the main perpetrators of the vendetta, there is always a sense of there being something bigger at play, and Gillian McAllister keeps you guessing as to how far their influence spreads and just who may be helping the antagonists get their way.

Set against this all consuming threat is the emotional core of the book. The impact that this enforced period of hiding – and let’s face it, witness protection does tend to be an indefinite, if not permanent thing – has upon the family. Because this is a combined family – two single parents who married and raise their two daughters together. Lauren’s husband, Aidan, stays behind to be with his mother and his daughter, Poppy, effectively splitting the family in two. It is a devastating situation and the author captures the turmoil beautifully as Lauren is forced to choose between her daughter and her marriage. Zara wins, of course, but it is not without an edge of resentment that is manifested in the way her thoughts, and her actions, develop.

Zara was a great character, very principled and straight in her actions, but also with many secrets that are revealed to alarming effect throughout the course of the novel. It is interesting to see the impact that her actions and her decisions have upon her as a character, see the way in which the author has explored the range of emotions that come from not only her principles but the hormones and reactions that stem from being a teenager, one who is still discovering who she really is.

As I said at the beginning, this book should be called how not to disappear. Whilst I understand the mistakes that Lauren and her family make, the choices they take due to their enforced separation, the rules of witness protection are there for a reason. There will be few of us who can’t identify with the overwhelming urge to reconnect with family and friends from whom we have been isolated, but we have the benefit of Zoom meetings, messenger, Whatsapp … Imagine our lives the past three months if all of that had been removed? It’s a difficult one and as much as she (Lauren) frustrated me, I do get it. But the breaches that occur – well the characters only see them as ‘minor’ breaches. Nothing to worry about. In the same way the iceberg only made a minor breach of the Titanic … Each time the threat escalates, the pace increases to match, and the tension and need to scoot closer to the edge of your seat grows too.

The characters were great. Be they good or bad or suspicious, they were authentic, fully rounded, and their emotions and behaviours explored in an intriguing and engaging way. They all had their priorities that they pursued, be it telling the truth, keeping their family safe, or even deciding which shoes to wear, and all of them rang true to the character and the story. But my favourite was probably Bill Gates. Everyone needs a Bill in their life. And I bet I know where the inspiration for him came from …

Tense, emotional and with a perfectly pitched pace, if this is what to expect from the author’s other books, I’m bumping them right up my list. Definitely recommended.

About the Author

Gillian McAllister is the Sunday Times Top 10 bestselling author of Everything But The Truth, Anything You Do Say, No Further Questions and The Evidence Against You.

Here’s what they’re about:

Everything But The Truth: Do you ever check your partner’s phone? Are you prepared for the consequences?
Anything You Do Say: A Sliding Doors thriller where a woman accidentally kills a man (who had been harassing her) on the way home from a night out. Should she run or stay?
No Further Questions: Your sister is in charge of your child when the worst happens. The police say she’s guilty. She insists she’s innocent. Who do you believe?
The Evidence Against You: 18 years ago your father murdered your mother. Now, he’s out, and he says he didn’t do it. Do you believe him – or does he want to kill you, too?

They are all standalone and can be read in any order. She is published in ten countries around the world. The Good Sister is her US debut, released by Penguin USA, and is the American title for No Further Questions.

Author Links: Twitter

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