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Autumn - leaves

Sight Unseen - Robert Goddard

My second book for Carl's R.I.P XI challenge is Sight Unseen by Robert Goddard.

In his forties and existing aimlessly in Prague, David Umber is approached by the retired police inspector who investigated a crime he witnessed as a student back in 1981. It took place at Avebury among the very famous stone circle there. A girl working as a nanny took her eye off the youngest of the three children for a moment and the child, a two year old girl, Tamsin Hall, was snatched. In the ensuing panic her older sister stepped out in front of the van in order to stop it taking her sister away and was knocked over and killed. Tamsin has never been seen since and is presumed dead by all.

The police officer, Sharp, is convinced that he didn't investigate as well as he might have and now wants to put things right. A feeling exacerbated by an anonymous letter he's received. He persuades David to accompany him back to England and help him reopen the investigation. David was in Avebury at the time to meet a man called Griffin who wanted to show him a book of letters by Junius, an 18th. century anonymous writer of venomous letters about royalty and politicians. Junius was David's Ph.D subject and he had done much research into his identity. The man, Griffin, had failed to turn up in 1981 but in all the chaos and confusion no one had tried to find out why.

Back in England, Umber travels into Wiltshire, with Sharp, to the scene of the crime. The parents of the children have divorced, the mother and her new family still live locally, the father has moved to Jersey with his surviving son. Unsurprisingly they do not welcome being made to relive the whole horrifying experience over again, particularly as a sex offender in prison has confessed to kidnapping and murdering young Tamsin Hall. Then the sex offender is murdered himself and Sharp and Umber realise they have touched a nerve somewhere. What they don't realise is how much danger they will be putting themselves into by dragging up the past.

Well... this is my first book by Robert Goddard. I've had the author recommended to me on several occasions, just not got aroud to him, which is a shame because this book was an excellent read. It's one of his more recent ones, written in 2005 I believe, which means there is quite an extensive back catalogue and a few books written since that as well. A good list is here on Fantastic Fiction: Robert Goddard's books. Judging by Sight Unseen, I suspect there are some excellent books among those titles.

The thing I liked about this one was how it wove two mystery storylines into one so seamlessly. Ie. the case of the missing child and who took her and the historical thread of who the 18th. century letter writer, Junius, was. He really did exist by the way. All the way through you're not only trying to work out who took the child, why was she taken, and was she dead... but you're also wondering what the connection is to Umber's studies of Junius. It's a fast moving plot so you need to keep your wits about you, a lot of characters to keep in your head as well: it can be a bit confusing. But the settings of Avebury and Jersey are interesting and well depicted, especially Avebury and the stone circle. He had the atmosphere there spot on.

There were two things that stopped me giving it a five on Goodreads... which I fully intended to do until about two thirds of the way through when it began to run out steam a bit, for me anyway. Perhaps it was me running out of steam, not the plot, but it seemed to lose its momentum a little. The other thing was that I never really felt I knew David Umber very well or perhaps I didn't really like him all that much, I'm not sure. I read somewhere that this can be a problem with Goddard's main characters. In the main though a fast moving plot, lots of twists and turns and some interesting historical detail made this a very good read.


I wonder if the reason his characters never quite catch is because the plot has so many threads. The girl's abduction, the other girl's death, the letters, to both Sharp, and the 18th century (!) ones, the sex offender, his death. And all figuring in the main crime, though it feels that he's carrying coincidence a bit too far. And I was confused just reading about the book! *g*

And I was just in Avebury! It was recommended as a place to stop on our way back to London by byslantedlight. It was well worth the stop. And how interesting would that be, to live right in the middle of them!
There certainly is a *lot* going on in this book. Some of characters did catch for me... most in fact... but the main one just wasn't there really. Vague. The sort of person you feel you might not really like in RL. I read on Goodreads that it's a problem with the author's main characters. I'll read more by him and see if that's so... hopefully the intricacies of the plot will make up for the lack in characterisation.

Well done to byslantedlight for reccing Avebury. It's such a wonderful spot.
I was going to say I like the sound of this (well, any book set in Avebury) but then you said that about the characters, and hmmn...! That's kind of been the problem with the two books I've read so far for R.I.P, they've been very plot-ish, but I've not really been all that keen on the characters. I like characters to have flaws, but I like having a reason to root for them too, I want to know them and like them... I don't think I've read any Robert Goddard before, though I've seen his name around of course. Might give him a try!
*Most* of the characters are fine, it was just the main one I wasn't sure about. Like you said, you need a reason to root for them and I couldn't find one in this book. However. *g* I really enjoyed the plot here, loads of twists and turns and the historical aspect was fascinating. Swings and roundabouts I suppose. I shall try one or two of his earlier books to see how they work. Maybe try to find out from Goodreads which ones are considered his best.