The Daughter (March 2015) is a debut thriller by British author Jane Shemilt who was a general practitioner before turning to fiction writing. Much like her own life story, the main character is a doctor married to a neurosurgeon. But the similarities end here. Rather than being a medically based thriller, like the works of fellow doctors-turned-authors Robin Cook or Carol Cassella, The Daughter is a dramatic psychological thriller about a missing girl and her mother’s mission to find her.
The Daughter opens on the day marking a year since Naomi’s disappearance. The next chapter is a flashback to the day before Naomi vanishes. The novel follows this past and present pattern throughout, which adds to the suspense and keeps the reader engaged. In these flashbacks, the reader sees Naomi is undergoing normal adolescent changes and becoming a young woman. Acting in the school play, for example, has provided her with new freedoms and her parents notice her growing maturity. However, this normalcy is questioned in the flash forwards. In the time after Naomi’s disappearance, her mother, Jen, cannot help but question all that she accepted as normal adolescent behavior. Was Naomi hiding something? How well does she know her children? Did Naomi leave on her own free will or was she a victim of a crime?
I loved this novel from the beginning. I could feel Jen’s angst and almost hear her heartbeat in my ear as she panics about her missing daughter. Shemilt did an excellent job capturing the sense of how everything one believes can change in an instant. Although Jen sometimes felt guilt for working outside the house, these feelings increase tenfold after Naomi disappears. She learns things were not as they seemed at home—everyone kept secrets both old and new.
Although there were parts where the plot slowed and the suspense lessened, this book is an impressive debut. There are plenty of twists and turns but one in particular that makes it all worthwhile.
The Daughter has the atmospheric angst of Starz’ television drama The Missing and the pacing of Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia. I highly recommend this dramatic thriller both for personal reading as well as book club discussion groups.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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