What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn
The very first page of WHAT WAS LOST made me laugh out loud and I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d reached the last of the ever-darkening pages.
The action takes place almost entirely in the unlovely setting of a Birmingham shopping mall. It begins in 1984 with Kate Meaney, private detective of Falcon Investigations, on a mission to solve a crime and, incidentally, to buy this week’s copy of the Beano. Ten-year-old Kate copes with the unhappiness and loneliness of her life by channelling all her intelligence and creativity into her ambition to run her own private investigations agency. With her trusty assistant, Mickey, the toy chimp in suit and spats, she makes notes about suspicious characters and follows leads, up until the day her sleuthing takes her down one path too many. Cut to twenty years later and, through the enmeshed stories of the staff who work at the mall, the solution to Kate’s mystery gradually unfolds.
The shopping mall, with its twelve miles of hidden grey service corridors, its ubiquitous CCTV, its blighted history, its piped music and desperate staff, is a brooding presence throughout the book. As well as giving the novel its particular and memorable atmosphere, it stands as an abiding image of everything that is bleak, inhuman and seamy about modern consumer culture.
A refreshing new voice in contemporary British fiction, Catherine O’Flynn breaks all the rules and has produced a novel that stands out by being original yet very readable.