Runaway by Anne Laughlin is a mystery/thriller with a romance, set around the contrast between the different upbringings of two sixteen-year-old girls, twenty years apart. Jan Roberts ran for her life twenty years ago and escaped from an Idaho Militia compound. In the present, Maddy Harrington appears to be running from a life of affluence, towards the very thing Jan escaped from.
Jan arrived in Chicago, an innocent, having spent her life under strict control in a compound. She had to survive on the streets by learning how to avoid predators; she also learned about sex and that she preferred women. She got a new identity from an underground contact and thus became Jan Roberts. Maddie, in contrast, has had an affluent upbringing. But, similarly to Jan, she is an innocent with little idea about how to survive and will have to learn how to identify predators.
Jan is now a private investigator with a large firm in Chicago. She and her partner Peet, form a formidable partnership with Jan’s investigative abilities and Peet’s background as a homicide detective. They are assigned to investigate Maddy’s disappearance. Maddy’s parents are wealthy, and obviously have little idea of their daughter’s lifestyle, her friends or the fact that she has been missing for some time before they notice.
As a background to the investigation, the company Jan and Peet work for is sold to a British company. Jan is worried that her false identity could be discovered. To make matters more complicated, the VP Global Development, Catherine Engstrom comes to Chicago to take control. There is an immediate attraction between Catherine and Jan despite the fact that Catherine has a background in MI5.
Jan is a smartly dressed butch and an expert at relationships that last only a short while and are usually sex-based. She cannot understand her inability to connect. We find that she has kept her past hidden and having this emotional background is the basis for her insecurity. It is interesting to see how her character changes through the story.
Catherine oh Catherine! I could not warm to her character in the story, despite being British myself. I tried to work out if Laughlin wrote her this way, and believe she did. Catherine is hiding things herself, and to me, this makes her a totally selfish person. But, in her defence; if she was not so selfish then she wouldn’t have followed the path she trod, and it would have been a different story.
Maddie, similarly, is also difficult to like. She is a mixture of innocence, arrogance and certainty; enough to make you cross, or impatient. As her character progresses we see her learning life lessons.
Finally, Peet deserves a mention. I loved Laughlin’s creation of Peet as a counterpoint to the other characters. She is around six feet tall, broad ‘with a Dutch Boy haircut’. She looks like a butch lesbian but is straight and married with three children, of whom two are teenagers. As a character, she shows us the relative normalcy of life, compared to all the other flawed characters.
The Writing Style
It is an easy read, with the story zig-zagging between Maddy and Jan. The second half of the book, working towards the final events in Idaho, keeps the pages turning. Those later pages are written with both an eye to the plot, but also to move the main characters along their internal journeys.
Some of the word selection and observations are sublime. For example, ‘Catherine’s voice crossed over her body like the low notes of a cello. She felt the vibration that it left’ and ‘the wood cabin she grew up in was smaller than the tree house she’d seen in the backyard of the Harrington house’.
I loved the notion of the two different sixteen-year old’s and the circular idea of the story; the running away and the running towards. The life inside one of the militias was not covered in great depth, but it was enough to show how brutal they can be and how we can have misconceptions about them.
One of the main characters cheats on her partner. Whilst I’m not against cheating, if it is an important point a story is dealing with, I’m not convinced it was necessary for this particular story.
This is a well written and interesting book. It deals with some of the personal issues behind militia organisations and how young people can be both attracted to them, and trapped by them.
Excerpt from Runaway by Anne Laughlin
Mrs. Harrington glared at her husband. “If anything happens to her it’s your fault.”
“Shut up, Lynette. We don’t need your histrionics now, for God’s sake.” He poured another drink. “Can I get you gals anything? No?” He knocked back the drink and put the glass down. “I think what you’re asking me is whether I have any enemies.”
“That’s right. Anyone at all, even if you don’t think they’d go this far,” Peet said.
Harrington stared at his wife accusingly. She stared back at him. They seemed to be wrapped in loathing.
“I think we can eliminate me as a suspect,” Mrs. Harrington said to her husband, “as much as I know you’d like to see me hauled away. I did not abduct my own daughter. In case you’d forgotten, we all live together.” Mrs. Harrington leaned back against the sofa, a furrow in her brow forming, despite the g-force strength of her ponytail.
“Do you want to retain us to attempt to locate Maddy?” Peet asked.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Harrington.
“I want her found,” Mr. Harrington said, “but I also want some idea of what it will cost.”
“Do you have a budget in mind for how much you’ll spend to find your daughter, Mr. Harrington?” Peet said, her tone pointedly neutral.
“God, you’re unbelievable,” said Mrs. Harrington.
Harrington ignored his wife. “I’ll take the billing up with your superiors. You two need to get to work finding Maddy.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781602826892
- Publisher: Bold Stroke Books Inc.
Anne Laughlin Online
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Note: I received a free review copy of Runaway by Anne Laughlin. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.