Among the Missing
Morag Joss
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Buy *Among the Missing* by Morag Joss online

Among the Missing
Morag Joss
272 pages
June 2011
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Evoking the natural beauty of the Inverness landscape, Joss’s writing is simple yet powerful in this darkly intricate tale of a collapsed bridge. As its great black steel arches crumble into the river, the strong tides and deep water sweep cars and bodies out to sea while the emotional wreckage of the disaster leaves three characters gasping for breath.

In a story as carefully constructed as the efforts by the authorities to rebuild the bridge, Joss makes it clear early in the novel that her characters will be forever altered by events preceding the accident. Colin and his wife are caught in a disenchanted and incongruous marriage in which love has been replaced with an obscuring politeness. On their “budget break” in Scotland, Colin is content to do guy-stuff, while his bored and disenchanted wife plans to drive their rental car up to Inverness.

The revelation that she’s pregnant sends a shudder through cold, diffident Colin, who proceeds to build an emotional wall: “I don’t want kids, we can’t afford it, they ruin your lifestyle.” As she tries to reason through the “mirage” that has become her marriage, the author alternates her travails with that of Silva and Stefan, two illegal immigrants who live with their infant daughter, Anna, in a leaking trailer hidden just down-river from the bridge.

With no money and no means to support themselves, their lives have become a futile guessing game of survival. Stefan, furious at not giving his family a regular life, has gone just as the bridge has collapsed. At the same time, Colin’s wife re-names herself Annabel. Ceasing to be the person she is, she walks away from Colin, becoming increasingly desperate as walks the river paths. Eventually falling into the company of Silva, Annabel attempts to buy her own child’s life at the cost of Stefan and Anna’s.

The tensions between Annabel and Silva play out as another character named Tom comes into their lives. A drifter recently released from prison, Tom finds work as part of the crew to clear the wreckage and rebuild the bridge. As Tom looks out for the two women, he helps set in motion Joss’s plot. The three form a friendship based in mutual need yet are always careful not to give anything away about the secrets of their pasts.

With Annabel steadily overwhelmed by her pregnancy, Silva hopes she will be reunited with her husband and daughter. Tom unexpectedly befriends an unbalanced Colin, now sick with remorse and positive that his wife perished in the bridge accident, unaware that she’s eking out a bare-bones life just ten kilometers up-river. What starts out as a psychological exploration of marriage and relationships soon takes on the twisted characteristics of a revenge tragedy as Silva learns the truth behind Annabel’s unexpected arrival at the cabin.

A night wind carries the torpid scent of oil and seawater as Joss perfectly captures the aching tenderness of her characters. But although the rain-soaked surrounds of Inverness are well captured, the author's intimate exploration of how changes in the environment can deeply affect so many people’s lives do little to elevate the story beyond what is mostly a depressing and morbid read.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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