Six children go out to play one day but only five return; that’s the starting point for a twenty year mystery at the heart of my new book ‘The Search’. Poor little Susan Verity is never seen again. Now, with the twentieth anniversary of a notorious tragedy looming, one man claims to know the truth about Susan’s fate and possibly even her whereabouts. That man is a convicted killer, long suspected of being Susan’s murderer but he likes to play games with the police and the families of his victims, delighting in their pain. This time he swears it’s different, because Adrian Wicklow is dying.
Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw is ordered to visit Wicklow in Durham jail. He’s reluctant to face the infamous prisoner who has broken his word time and time again. There are other undiscovered bodies, so Bradshaw agrees for the sake of the families, even at the possible expense of his own sanity.
An under-resourced Durham Constabulary can spare no one to aid him, so Bradshaw enlists the help of investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney. Together they have to solve a puzzle that has confounded everyone for years. They must talk to the children who did return that day but every one of them has grown up with their own scars, caused by their link to the missing girl. Some even say they are cursed.
Then there are those who can’t account for their actions that day; the farmer who scares trespassing kids with a shotgun, the teacher who knew all of the children, the counsellor who cannot reveal what was said to her in confidence when one of the children has a breakdown, and then there is Susan’s own father whose past holds secrets he has tried to keep hidden for years.
If, like me, you are old enough to recall the summer of 1976 personally, one thing probably sticks in your mind; the heat. That seemingly endless dry spell broke records as the hottest in living memory. The situation became so serious the government had to appoint a Minister for Drought. It is during this extraordinary time that young Susan goes off over the fields to play with her friends, triggering a massive manhunt that fails to find her.
The bulk of my book is set in 1996, a very different time, with technological advances and changing attitudes altering the way people viewed their lives, but their fascination with the past and its unsolved mysteries still obsesses all of those who were involved.
At the heart of my story is the matter of trust. Who can you believe when your witnesses were only ten years old? Can you honestly trust a murderer who lies for fun when he promises to tell you what really happened? How can you turn your back on a dying killer when he is your only chance of solving the mystery? What price are you personally prepared to pay to finally uncover that truth?
The Search by Howard Linskey is published by Michael Joseph