Friday, January 15, 2021


STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens (Allen & Unwin, 2010)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On the day she was abducted, Annie O'Sullivan, a 32-year-old realtor, had three goals - sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she's about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. 

Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of a psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape — her struggle to piece her shattered life back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor. 

Like Australian, New Zealand, and Irish crime, Canadian crime fiction is a treasure trove full of talented storytellers crafting high quality tales that's perhaps been somewhat overlooked in comparison to American and British counterparts. I've been a big fan of Canada and Canadian crime fiction for a long time, and read a decent amount of it (even if I haven't reviewed everything I've read here). 

Now a decade old, STILL MISSING is a book well worth grabbing. A searing debut novel from a Vancouver Island storyteller, it consists of a series of sessions a woman has with her psychiatrist, and marked the first bow of a fresh and compelling voice in crime writing, Chevy Stevens. 

The book is written as a series of 'shrink' sessions where Annie O'Sullivan recounts both what is happening to her now, and what happened to her 'back then'. Then being the traumatising year she spent imprisoned in a remote mountain cabin. She's still struggling to piece her life back together and uncover the truth behind her abduction. I began this book late at night, and ended up staying up very, very late, whirring through the chapters and Annie's story. Chevy Steven did a superb job setting the hook.

There's a strong 'narrative voice' to Annie's first-person perspective, with some personality to the prose and interesting ways of looking at things. The intrigue and mystery builds nicely, which is a great effort by Stevens considering it's obvious from the first page that Annie survived her abduction. Despite knowing that outcome - if not the why, or whether she's still in danger - there's some great tension.

Stevens does a great job capturing the change in Annie's life and personality due to her ordeal, how she becomes a shell of herself and grasps for ways to deal with a horrifying situation. There's a strong thread of humanity among the trauma, of fully fleshed characters who are struggling, all-too-human. 

The flashback structure could have easily backfired, but Stevens utilises it with aplomb, and shows a dab hand as a debutant, ratcheting up the tension and building empathy for Annie as the full horrors of what she went through are revealed. A very, very good debut psychological thriller. 

Well worth a read. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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