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Boy, 9, Missing


Boy, 9, Missing

The title “Boy, 9, Missing” is not a misnomer, but it barely scratches the surface of this fine debut novel by Nic Joseph. It begins with a startling sentence and ends with a poignant paragraph. What occurs in between will keep you up reading all night long.

BOY, 9, MISSING concerns the sins of the past coming back to haunt the present. The past, in this case, is revealed in dribs and drabs throughout the novel. The story is told primarily through the first person voice of Francis Scroll --- now Francis Clarke --- a reporter for a small community newspaper in his hometown of Lansing, Illinois. The reason for the name change has to do with an event that occurred when Francis was barely a teenager. One evening, Alex and Kate, Francis’ well-to-do parents, invited Brian and Elizabeth Farr, and Sam, their 10-year-old son, over for dinner. Before the night ended, Francis’ 10-year-old brother, Lucas, was dead in his family’s bathtub. Sam was the only witness but refused to say a word about what had happened, and the case was ruled an accident by drowning.

"BOY, 9, MISSING may be a debut novel, but Nic Joseph’s pacing is perfect throughout.... This is a fine first effort by an author who hopefully has many, many more stories to tell."

The publicity that came with the case made the death notorious and ripped the Scroll family asunder. Francis changed his name and is all but estranged from his parents, particularly his father. Meanwhile, Sam has led a relatively normal life. He is back in the spotlight, though, when Matthew, his nine-year-old son, goes missing, sparking a search that is creating nationwide headlines. The shadow of suspicion is immediately cast upon Alex, who for decades has blamed Sam for Lucas’ death and has been shadowing Sam and Matthew for some time. It seems almost certain that Alex has kidnapped Matthew, or worse, a supposition that is strengthened by Alex’s own disappearance. Francis uses his own skill set, acquired and honed by his years as a reporter for a New York newspaper, to locate his father and attempt to find out what has happened to Matthew. His investigation reopens what occurred that fateful night when his brother died.

The narrative is interspersed with passages from a work in progress by a local television reporter who is interviewing Sam, in an effort to ultimately determine what transpired during the final moments of Lucas’ life. The revelations, when they ultimately arrive, are explosive. Afterwards, no one’s life, for better or worse, will be the same.

BOY, 9, MISSING may be a debut novel, but Nic Joseph’s pacing is perfect throughout. The revelations regarding what happened on that fateful night, and the principals involved, become increasingly more startling as the narrative progresses. However, nothing really prepares one for the truth, which is totally unexpected yet on reflection is perfectly plausible. Joseph, who is a journalist herself, has elsewhere expressed an interest in situations where good people do bad things, and one can certainly see that fascination brought to bear within the pages of this fast-moving work, which twists and turns across the printed page in ways you will never anticipate. This is a fine first effort by an author who hopefully has many, many more stories to tell.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 30, 2016

Boy, 9, Missing
by Nic Joseph