REVIEW: How To Disappear by Gillian McAllister
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Michael Joseph for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley.
How To Disappear tells the story of a girl called Zara, who has to enter witness protection after lying during a high profile court case. Zara, known as Girl A, and her mother Lauren are forced to move across the country, leaving Zara’s stepfather Aiden behind to stay with his biological daughter Poppy.
However, Aiden isn’t going to let his family go that easily. He assumes a new identity himself, infiltrating a group of people known only as Find Girl A. Find Girl A are determined to track Zara down and to make her pay for her lies, but Aiden is certain that he’ll be able to gather enough evidence to stop them and allow his family to come home safely.
The Find Girl A group are more dangerous than Aiden thought, however, and it isn’t long before all of their lives are at risk.
How To Disappear was one of the most hyped thrillers released in 2020, but I’m sad to say that it wasn’t for me.
My first problem with How To Disappear is that it starts in the wrong place. We meet Lauren as she’s applying for a job at a new nursery, trying to get her head around the fact that she’s not Lauren any longer. The story then jumps back in time, taking us back to Zara testifying in court, slowly leading up to Zara and Lauren leaving their lives behind. Sadly, the knowledge that Lauren had a new identity meant that the “will they/won’t they?” discussion around entering witness protection was null and void.
Normally I read at least 10% of a book before bed each night, but How To Disappear began so slowly that it took me almost a week to get through the first third of it. Thankfully things do pick up in the middle, and I did read the second half of the book in a day, but this story was a slog to get into. If it hadn’t been receiving such rave reviews, I might not have forced myself to finish this book.
One thing I did love about this story was the way Gillian McAllister describes the settings she picks. Zara and Lauren end up in the Lake District, and the way that McAllister described the location sent shivers down my spine. I used to live in a little village and the silence was pervasive, making every little noise seem amplified and always putting me on edge if I was home alone at night. McAllister brought these feelings back to life for me, and that’s the main reason I gave How To Disappear two stars instead of just one.
I also enjoyed the fact that this story was told in multiple perspectives. There are chapters following all four of the main characters which adds a lot of depth to the story. They all had very strong voices as well, which made it easy to remember who was narrating even if I put the book down in the middle of a chapter.
The pacing of the story is far better in the middle than at either the beginning or the end. While the beginning drags out interminably, the ending is so abrupt that I didn’t have time to feel anything about the events that played out. I’m not going to give spoilers, but there were a few predictable things which happened one after the other, and it destroyed my enjoyment of the whole story. If the ending had been a bit more interesting – or had been eked out, allowing me to care about the things that occurred – this book could have been a 3 or 4 star.
There was also a huge plot hole which is still bugging me. I’m wondering whether it may have been changed before the novel was released, as this was an advanced copy, so I am tempted to reread a finished copy of How To Disappear at some point! But there is a big event which has some timing inconsistencies, and something else which is implied throughout the story but never comes to fruition. They seem like glaring oversights. Because I’m not sure whether they will have been removed in the finished copy, this has not impacted my rating.
That being said, I’m still interested in picking up more of Gillian McAllister’s novels in the future. This was the first one of hers that I’ve read, and her writing style is brilliant. Unfortunately this wasn’t the one for me, but if you’re looking for a thriller stuffed with tension and a great use of setting, I would still recommend giving it a go.
Thank you for reading this review,