Michael Robotham’s latest novel was a disturbing read. It lingered in my brain long after I had finished, constantly finding events in my life into which it could superimpose itself. Although there are no similarly horrible experiences in my life, there were definitely parts of the book that left their mark on my opinions, and connected with the darkest things I have ever read or experienced.
Say You’re Sorry focuses on unsolved mysterious disappearances, a societal fear which leaves an after taste of cruelty. Bodies are found in dumpsters, cars, abandoned houses, or on the shores of ports, rivers and lakes. Thanks to the surge in popular crime T.V, we think we know how the next step works. Answers present themselves, a fingerprint here, a dying flower there, two toothbrushes in the sink, and a shredded ticket to the Maldives. The detective makes a convincing case by collecting evidence and the ‘bad guy’ goes to prison. The families of all the victims are consoled by the verdict of the trial, and somehow manage to make peace with the loss of their loved one.
We rarely ever get to see what happens when the answers do not appear, when the families of the missing are left without a clue, after all their tears have been exhausted. This is what Say You’re Sorry plays upon. Robotham has had the wonderful sense to travel deeper into human nature when traumatized people are faced with having to get on with life, without the answers. Within this novel he makes some wonderfully simple and strong social points, ultimately highlighting an old truth: that we fear nothing as much as the unknown.
The plot of the novel begins in Bingham, a small town in America, where two young girls went missing around three years before the present. When alleged answers finally turn up, the media, and the people of Bingham twist the girls lives to suit the only lead they had. They overlook the holes in their facts, preferring to focus on a fairly innocent explanation as to the girl’s disappearance, so they did not have to remain house-mates to fear. According to Bingham, Piper Hadley and Natasha McBain were not kidnapped, lured into drugs, or murdered; they were simply two troubled, ungrateful teens that ran away. Bingham has been deceived.
Some of the most poignant social commentary comes from Piper Hadley, one half of the mysteriously missing ‘Bingham Girls.’ She has a stinging, rebellious sense of humor, and a strange sense of normalcy given her situation. Piper and her companion Natasha are held captive, in a dark, cold room, devoid of light, and oversaturated in the smell of their own excrement. The relationship they once had begins to fade away when Natasha falls apart. Piper becomes our first narrator, taking solace in journaling her experience. Piper’s descriptions of watching television in the first few months of their disappearance are a great example of the small, strong observations throughout the novel. The following is one of my favourite passages:
“There were balloons and soft toys and candles just like when Princess Diana died. Complete strangers were praying for us, weeping as though we belonged to them, as though we summed up the tragedies in their own lives… People put a shine on us that wasn’t there for real, making us into the angels they wanted us to be.”
The book juxtaposes the experience of the girls with the narration of Clinical Psychologist Joe O’loughlin. He is called in to profile a man suspected to have murdered two people in a house invasion. Upon interviewing the schizophrenic subject, Joe realizes the man may have witnessed a different murder as well as the one he is suspected of; that of a young girl, running barefoot and lost in the woods in winter. Joe O’Loughlin’s dysfunctional family life, and his unquestionably affected personal psyche help the reader of this book put their faith in his investigations. He knows what it is like to lose a daughter to a shadow in the dark, and so we know that he will try his best to find the missing girls, and look for justice. He must redeem himself. O’Loughlin’s own personal understanding of crime forces us to look at the shattered remains of a broken community, creating the book’s focus on the effect of community trauma, and the fear which creates such a sobering aftertaste when this sort of crime happens in our own communities, no matter how rare it is.
O’Loughlin is the most brilliant ‘detective’ style character that I have come across in pulp crime fiction. He is a deep soul, quiet and patient, and yet rippling under the surface. He has been a parent to a missing child, and he knows both the fear that motivates the community around the Bingham girls and the ulterior motives that drive individuals to do what they do, no matter how unsavoury those actions are. He suffers every day with the effect that his past choices have had on his life, and fights a second battle, with Parkinson’s disease.
He is the link for anyone reading this book as a parent. He is the character that recalls the good in humanity for the reader. He helps the reader recognize that gut fear you will feel while reading, and recalls a memory of when you felt it last; as you turned to your child at the shops to find that they were not behind you. Say You’re Sorry has everything you need to fulfil the hunger of a crime reader. It is gut-wrenching in places, with sweet and sad moments that you are forced to hold onto when you read through the sour parts. The book seems to tell you straight away what is going on ahead of you, but do not be deceived by it’s frank nature – the hunt for the culprit will have you suspecting your own next-door neighbour and there are plenty of tricks here to keep you interested.
Title: Say You’re Sorry
Author: Michael Robotham
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group