Title: Missing Daughter, Shattered Family (David Lloyd Investigations)
Author: Liz Strange
Cover artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel/293 PDF pages/89,000 words
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Solid mystery with an clumsy (and misleading) title and a somewhat “unfinished” protagonist
Blurb: When a brutal homophobic attack ended David Lloyd’s career as a police officer, his life was changed forever. Five years later David is running his own private detective agency, where a missing person’s case comes to his attention. Digging into the circumstances of her disappearance forces David to realize he has not dealt with what happened to him, and that he can no loner deal with his long-time partner’s fear of being honest about their relationship.
Solving the case might not only bring peace to a shattered family, but could finally put David’s own demons to rest.
David Lloyd Investigations
First, let me be clear: this is not a romance and going into it expecting romance will only lead to disappointment. While the protagonist is in an established, long-term relationship which requires some work along the way, this is primarily a mystery and one competently-written at that. The book is not without problems though. They are mainly connected to the protagonist, his background and private life, rather than the mystery itself, which is why I divided the review in two parts.
David Lloyd is hired by her mother to find a missing girl. In spite of her good background (well-off family, good education), the young woman has a history of both mental illness and drug abuse, which is why the police aren’t exactly running to solve the case and even some of her family members don’t believe that she is in any actual danger — except from herself. The case seems pretty straightforward and, in the beginning, quite frustrating for David because it seems that he can’t move the investigation forward. However, the case quickly strays in a much, much darker territory and David’s investigation provokes reaction from the unknown parties — initially in the form of anonymous phone calls, only to escalate to violence and, eventually, murder.
This part of the book worked really well for me. David isn’t one of those detectives who tents his fingers and knows all the answers. In fact, David works very, very hard to find them: he talks to girl’s family, friends, colleagues, doctors (sometimes more than once), talks to the police and his other sources, checks various data, etc. He isn’t beyond bending a few rules if it gives him results or if it will protect someone. He has good intuition and he’ll throw himself into the action if necessary. The author provided us with enough suspects, motivations and red herrings to make the mystery interesting and solution not too easy. Towards the end, the story slips several times into thriller, also giving the mystery an exciting finale.
This part of the story introduced many interesting and complex characters: the Barrowman family (including Stella, the missing girl), Stella’s friend Elaine, her boyfriend Sasha, local criminals Lee and Ritchie, young prostitute Jennie, his former colleague Jimmy, etc. It also introduced one of the major themes of the novel — that of the family, both birth family and the one we choose and build by ourselves. If I have any complaints about this part of the story, it’s repetitiveness of certain scenes in the first half of the book: David makes an appointment, goes to the meeting, usually in someone’s office and gets the same information, which was slightly frustrating. It was realistic, yet this is fiction and perhaps some scenes could have been tweaked or omitted completely to make the story move faster.
While the mystery worked well, the part of the book regarding David’s private life reads as the sequel of the book we missed, which made David, the man, seem somewhat “unfinished”. We don’t even know how old he is. The one clue we have is this: “He could still easily pass for being in his thirties.“ We have to conclude that he is at least forty years old, although David’s interactions with his family (younger brother Sean, grandmother Rhea) as well as other characters made him seem much younger. We are told many things, but we are shown very little. We are told about David’s past marriage, coming out, problems with his family and colleagues, homophobic attack, his retirement and recovery, but, because we don’t get to see him experiencing these things we don’t know how these events affected him, changed him, defined him. Therefore, we have to take many things for granted: that David and Jamie Brennan love each other, David’s motivation for not trying to change their relationship (Jamie is in the closet to both his family and colleagues for five years they were together) and his sudden change of heart, his past, etc. David and Jamie sometimes have conversations that make you wonder what they were doing for five years and why are they together in the first place. I was able to somewhat change my opinion about them as a couple in the second half of the book, when they started working together and the author showed us some moments of closeness, gentleness and teasing born from long-term intimacy, but for the most part their entire situation (relationship, conflict, super quick solution) seemed artificial to me.
I also wasn’t satisfied with the way the attack on David was handled. The identity of the man who organized and led the attack is known, yet never really seriously considered by the police. It was explained that his friends gave him the alibi, but it made me wonder how many officers would provide even one of their own with the alibi for the attempted murder (because the attack was just that brutal). Police homophobia and blue line aside, it seemed unrealistic that something so serious would simply be shoved under the rug this way. It is clear that this will be addressed in the future book(s), but it was another element of David’s past we had to take for granted. The attack happened in 1995 (the majority of the book is set in the year 2000), so maybe that is the reason, but it was hard for me to believe something like this was tolerated even 15 years ago.
There were several grammar/typing errors that I caught and once a character was misnamed (Arthur instead of George). The title is rather clumsy as well as misleading (the reason would be a spoiler so you’ll have to take my word for it :P). While generally the writing was good, occasionally I was pulled out of the story by rather stilted language, especially when it comes to some of David’s contemplations. The City of Toronto, in which the story takes place, could not be distinguished from any other larger city in North America.
Missing Daughter, Shattered Family is a solid, realistically handled mystery, though I feel the protagonist needs more depth, especially if he has to carry the entire series. This is the first book I’ve read by this author and my overall impressions were positive, in spite of my complaints. I will definitely pick up the next book in the David Lloyd Investigations series to read.