‘What do you do when your child disappears?’
– The Empty Room
[ About the Book ]
Dora Condron wakes one morning to discover her 17-year old daughter Ellie, has not come home after a party.
The day Ellie disappears, Dora is alone as her husband Eamon has already left for the day in his job as a long-distance lorry driver. So Dora does the usual things: rings around Ellie’s friends… but no one knows where she is. Her panic growing, Dora tries the local hospitals and art college where Ellie is a student – but then the police arrive on her doorstep with the news her daughter’s handbag has been discovered dumped in a layby.
So begins Dora’s ordeal of waiting and not knowing what has become of her girl. Eamon’s lack of empathy and concern, Dora realises, is indicative of the state of their marriage, and left on her own, Dora begins to reassess everything she thought she knew about her family and her life. Increasingly isolated and disillusioned with the police investigation, Dora feels her grip on reality slipping as she takes it upon herself to find her daughter – even if it means tearing apart everything and everybody she had ever loved, and taking justice into her own hands.
[ My Review ]
The Empty Room by Brian McGilloway will publish March 31st with Constable and is described by the Irish Daily Mail as ‘a tense thriller’. A standalone novel, The Empty Room is one that has taken me a few days to process, as I unravelled my thoughts. I was unsure of my feelings about certain sections of the book, but I soon came to realise, as a mother myself, that a parent will do literally ANYTHING in the search for the truth about a disappearing child. How often, when you hear something on the news, have you thought ‘what were they thinking?’ when the reality is that the individual in question probably wasn’t doing much thinking at all in that moment. Anger, frustration and pure love can drive people, rightfully or wrongfully, to take actions that are so far outside their norm, as is the case with Pandora (Dora) Condron.
Dora’s husband Eamon leaves early for work one morning, heading off on a long-haul trip as an overseas lorry driver. Dora met Eamon in the years after the birth of her daughter Ellie but for the first few years of Ellie’s life, it was just mother and daughter. They had a tight relationship and there were times that Eamon felt an outsider but Dora reassured him that she loved him and was delighted when they all became a proper family. In recent times though Dora has felt a shift in their marriage, a strained atmosphere has developed between herself and Eamon and she can feel herself distancing from his touch. When Eamon leaves that morning Dora feels a sense of relief and gradually adjusts to her morning.
Ellie had been out with friends the previous night but Dora had gone to bed early to avoid Eamon so had not heard Ellie come home. But when Dora opened Ellie’s bedroom door, her world stopped moving. Ellie had not returned home last night. Dora rang Ellie’s friends, but to no avail. Nobody knew where Ellie had actually been the night before. On contacting Eamon, his response was banal. He didn’t seem overly concerned and attributed her missing to being asleep on someone’s couch, oblivious to her mother’s worry. Dora believed differently. Something was off. She knew her daughter. She knew this was not normal.
Dora rang the police who were initially sceptical but stated that they would make a few opening inquiries. Dora rang the hospital and went to the art college where Ellie was a student. Perhaps some new friends Ellie had made there might know something. But every which way Dora turned, she was met with a brick wall, until she got the dreaded visit from the police. They had found Ellie’s handbag abandoned, seemingly dumped, in a layby. What was it doing there? And where was Ellie?
Dora Condron is not a woman to be messed with. She begins her own search for her daughter, ignoring the attempts by the police to shut down her vigilante type actions. A woman possessed, Dora knows something horrific has happened to Ellie and she will not stop until she discovers the truth.
A mother bear, whose cub is hurt or killed, is a vicious creature and Dora Condron proves to be made of similar mettle. As the days and weeks pass, Dora starts to examine her relationship with Eamon and begins to see her marriage for what it truly is. The cards of her carefully constructed house are collapsing and Dora begins to lose herself and lose track of time. Her sometimes erratic actions lead Dora on some very dark journeys with some terrible consequences, but each time she falls she gets back on the horse again, determined to never give up the search for Ellie.
Brian McGilloway slowly drip-feeds the reader snippets as the plot twists and turns down some very malevolent and insidious paths. Very important questions of morality are raised throughout The Empty Room with the reader left asking how far would they be prepared to go if someone they loved dearly suddenly disappeared? The Empty Room unleashes a Pandora’s Box but is there any hope left over for Dora? Revenge, grief, atonement and murder all play a role in this moving thriller that builds slowly to quite a few shocking and calamitous reveals. Tense and heart-breaking The Empty Room is a disquieting read with a very different take on the whole theme of the missing child. What would you do?
[ Bio ]
Brian McGilloway is the author of eleven crime novels including the Ben Devlin mysteries and the Lucy Black series, the first of which, Little Girl Lost, became a New York Times and UK No.1 bestseller. In addition to being shortlisted for a CWA Dagger and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, he is a past recipient of the Ulster University McCrea Literary Award and won the BBC Tony Doyle Award for his screenplay, Little Emperors. He currently teaches in Strabane, where he lives with his wife and four children.
Twitter ~ @BrianMcGilloway