Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Bunny Lake Is Missing - Evelyn Piper

This 1957 thriller is an eye-opener. Like the Brand book, I sought this out because I once saw the film. And I’m glad I did. It’s riveting stuff. Dark, tense, suspenseful. And beautifully written.

Blanche Lake, an unmarried mother and recently moved to New York, goes the school at the end of the day to collect her daughter from the nursery. Bunny isn’t there. No one remembers Bunny being there in the first place. Blanche, already in a delicate psychological state because of her ‘situation’ and an overbearing mother, becomes frantic. The police are sceptical and, having looked through her apartment, can find no trace of a child having existed.

This is a nightmare that grips the reader from the very beginning and it does not let go. Taking place mostly in darkness, even the reader begins to wonder if, perhaps, Blanche is deluded and we are taking a journey into the mind of a psychotic woman. But little clues mount up and the motives of those whom Blanche meets in her frantic search are called into question.

This portrayal of a mind in turmoil and the paranoia it so easily engenders is wonderfully observed. The book is a blend of this psychological maelstrom (it rattles along at a breathless pace with no chapter breaks), and the best of noirish, gritty thriller writing. Although it lacks the overt violence of a Chandler or Hammett, the psychological violence is brutal and the sense of menace drenches the whole piece.

I have read criticism of the book’s ending claiming it is something of an anti-climax. It didn’t read like that to me. The final scene on the steps outside the school very cleverly wraps up the story whilst leaving so much unresolved that it is clear that whilst there is one level of resolution, there is a great deal more left of the night to be journeyed through.

Excellent stuff.