The Missing Years
By Lexie Elliott
ISBN0399586954 (ISBN13: 9780399586958)
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
An eerie, old Scottish manor in the middle of nowhere that’s now hers.
Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.
Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.
Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.
When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything. (From Goodreads)
Set in the beauty of Scotland, this novel is full of suspense and intrigue with some downright frightening moments. The characters are interesting and mysteries complex. I was quickly wrapped up in the Manse, those now living in it, and their relationships with those who live in the area.
This is the first time Ailsa Calder has lived in the Manse since her father disappeared without a trace 27 years earlier. She and her mother stayed until it was clear Martin Calder was not going to return. When he disappeared, he was returning from a diamond-buying trip for the jeweler he worked for with a huge value of diamonds in his possession. It was thought he took the diamonds and ran. Mom was an artist; she spent several years taking Ailsa from place to place until marrying Pete, her second husband.
Ailsa has just inherited ½ of the Manse from her mother, recently deceased, and learns that her missing father owns the other half. Carrie, her younger stepsister, has come with her to Scotland. An actor, Carrie has a part in a play in Edinburgh and will live with Ailsa, maybe even repair their relationship.
Ailsa is a field producer for a BBC TV channel; when not traveling for work, she lives in London with her boyfriend, Jonathan Powell. He is a cultured BBC journalist twenty years her senior. They have been together for the better part of ten years. While she decides what to do with the Manse, she is on a leave of absence from work.
Things start happening. It isn’t enough that it seems the Manse is watching Ailsa. She goes downstairs for a drink that first night, and when returning upstairs, finds a man in the hall. He says he is a neighbor, Jamie McCue, who claims his sister Fiona has always been obsessed with the Manse. When there are no renters living there, she sometimes gets in and wanders the halls. Her favorite area is the master suite, which is currently Carrie’s. Jamie has often found her there when she wanders.
First things first. Get a locksmith, change the locks, and have the locksmith open the locked storage room in the attic room. The storage room contains some old painting canvases and several boxes. A newspaper is left at the front door from the time of Martin’s disappearance, with the article about his disappearance and missing diamonds boldly marked. One evening she is outside and thinks she sees someone in the storeroom. She and Carrie meet some of their neighbors at the pub, including Fiona. Carrie and Fi seem to bond quickly. Ailsa realizes Fi looks like the person she saw in the storeroom window. Animals, even Callum’s dog, refuse to go onto the Manse property. Another time they find a dead raven on the doorstep, almost posed. It disappears, then reappears, posed, in another location outdoors. Ailsa is watching Fiona’s seven-year-old son Callum at the Manse while Fi is working. As he plays upstairs, he finds bones in in the master suite under the bed. A skull appears a couple nights later. It is time to get out. Somebody is getting in somehow, and it isn’t safe for the sisters to stay there.
The characters are well defined especially through actions and conversations; I quickly began to like Ailsa. The neighbors are each interesting in their own way, especially those whose parents had been friends of her parents. None of the neighbors are who they first appear to be, including one who holds a resentment against Ailsa because of her parents. Carrie is a bit more of an enigma, even though I guessed her secret before her sister did. We also learn about Ailsa through her thoughts and her brilliance with words as she sees things such as trees and the Manse as if they had human characteristics. The most honest, straightforward person is little Callum, forthright as only a child can be.
The plot is fast-paced with a complex, fascinating mystery. Trying to understand how much of the present is a result of the past is also a consideration. The novel is well-written with excellent descriptions of the setting, giving just enough information to keep the mysteries active and suspense building. I did finally guess who the troublemaker is before Ailsa did, but there wasn’t any one thing that gave it away. Part of the motive and solution were quite surprising! I highly recommend this novel to those who appreciate intriguing, well-written mysteries coupled with family drama spanning decades and likable characters who are easy to appreciate watch change and grow.