Book report: Jane Casey ‘Spoorloos’
Traceless is the debut thriller by Irish writer Jane Casey. One day, twelve-year-old Jenny disappears and her body is found in a park by her teacher, Sarah. As a little girl, Sarah had experienced something similar herself. One day her little brother Charlie never came back and she was the last to see him. Charlie was never found and that insecurity tore the family apart. Now, sixteen years later, the grief has still not been processed and everything comes back up again with Jenny’s disappearance.
- Main characters
- Symbols and motifs
- Title statement and book cover
- Structure and perspective / way of telling
- Time and place
- Original title: Missing
- Title: Without a trace
- Author: Jane Casey
- First print: 2010
- First edition translated into Dutch: 2010
- Translation: Iris van der Blom
- Number of pages: 395
- ISBN: 978 90 0414 1678 0
While running, teacher Sarah Finch discovers the body of Jenny Shepherd, the 12-year-old student in her class, who had been missing for several days. Jenny’s death reminds Sarah of the disappearance of Charlie, her brother, which has now been 16 years. She is happy that she has now adopted a different surname and that none of her colleagues knows her past. Because otherwise the media or the police might ask her about her past and she doesn’t feel like it.
Not much later she meets the two detectives dealing with the case, Detective Inspector Vickers and Sergeant Blake. During a conversation with the detectives, Sarah is told that Jenny was certainly murdered and that the girl was pregnant. Sarah is completely confused when she hears this and feels guilty that she hadn’t noticed anything in her student.
Sergeant Blake initially catches Sarah’s attention and shows that he is interested in her too. So he worries about her and this case. He does not want her to be too closely involved with the research, but not much later they are kissing each other. Blake realizes that he is unprofessional by allowing the witness of one of the most important things of his career into his private life, but doesn’t want to stop it for now.
Jenny’s case has motivated Sarah to find out exactly what happened to her brother. She starts looking through all the articles in the hope of finding something that can help her further. She soon discovers a story about Danny, Charlie’s best friend, that arouses her curiosity. Derek Keane, Danny’s father, was captured by the murder of his wife in 1998, the year Sarah had lived with her aunt and uncle. So that year Danny and his two-year-old brother had lost their mother and father.
Sarah decides to visit Danny and meets Paul, Danny’s younger brother, who makes it clear that Danny is not present. He explains to her that he was bullied a lot at school and therefore now works from home. During the conversation she learns that Paul knew Jenny. When she arrives at home, she is visited by her pushy colleague Geoff. When he sees that she is not happy with his presence, he is angry and insists. In the end she manages to send him away.
The next morning Sarah sees flashing lights on the street. She recognizes Blake as one of the police officers. Not much later she receives a visit from him. Geoff had been attacked in his car and seriously injured. Sarah recounts what happened the night before, but she would not know who hit Geoff like that. Blake also wants to know when she wanted to inform him about her brother. But Sarah makes it clear to him not to take it personally, since she doesn’t talk to anyone about Charlie.
Vickers doesn’t like coincidences, especially now that two violent crimes have been committed. He feels that Danny could be a possible suspect. When they start the home investigation, they discover just in time Paul, who had attempted suicide. In one of the bedrooms they discover all kinds of Sarah’s belongings: photos, a diary, a hair clip, … But they also find homemade child pornography and evidence related to the attack on Geoff. Sarah is taken into custody due to the presence of her belongings and other coincidences in the investigation.
Sarah doesn’t know what she’s hearing when it is explained that she probably got the help of Danny to do the crimes. She hopes the police find him soon so Danny can tell them she has nothing to do with it at all. But first she has to help Vickers, since she’s the only one Paul wants to speak to.
As soon as Paul sees Sarah he starts talking. Jenny was in love with Danny, but it was not mutual. Danny did take advantage of her feelings to take video footage and photos of her. And Paul put it on the internet and that is how the brothers made money. Danny also thought Jenny was perfect because she knew Sarah. For example, she had to tell him things about Sarah and dress like Sarah when she was the same age as Jenny. Jenny also occasionally took things from Sarah. Jenny herself didn’t like it all that much, but she did everything for Danny, who had been in love with Sarah for years. And in the meantime, Sarah had become a real obsession with him. Now that they have heard Paul’s story, it is clear to everyone that Sarah is not a perpetrator, but also a victim. At the hospital, Sarah also learns that Geoff has succumbed to his injuries.
Not much later, Sarah and her mother are visited by Vickers. He tells them what he found out through Danny, whom they had taken into custody. Charlie would have gone to see his friend that summer, but only Danny’s father was there. Chances are, Derek abused Charlie then. And he probably knew Charlie would tell what had happened and Derek panicked. When Danny and his mom got home, Charlie was dead. Danny should have helped bury his own friend, so they now know where Charlie’s body is. After the news about her son, Sarah’s mom gives her a hug and tells her she’s a good daughter. Finally they can both process their grief.
When Blake picks up Sarah the next day, he tells her that Danny admitted the attack on Geoff, but not Jenny’s murder. She wants to tell her mother everything, but when she goes looking for her mother, she finds her dead in her bed. She clearly hadn’t found a reason to live on now that Charlie had stopped coming home.
Sarah decides to inform Jenny’s parents, Diane and Michael, about what has happened in the meantime and what the relationship is with Charlie. But during the conversation she feels a tension and tries to find out what is wrong when the father leaves. The mother collapses and tells her husband was devastated when he learned that Jenny was pregnant. He was furious and wanted her to take a bath because she was dirty. There he drowned her and then took her to the forest, where he left her body.
Diane is too scared so she doesn’t want to tell the police. Sarah tries to convince her and brings in Valerie, the agent who is guiding the couple. But at that moment Michael is already inside with a crossbow. It doesn’t take long either when he tries to kill Valerie and his wife. Sarah knows she’s going to be next and keeps Michael talking until she has a chance to attack him. Completely upset by what she had been through, she doesn’t give Michael a chance to survive. Valerie, who survived Michael’s attack, reports everything she saw to Vickers, who gives Sarah a chance to declare her attack as legitimate self-defense.
After all the events, a few days later Sarah leaves her parental home for the last time and moves in with Blake.
He was twelve years old when he disappeared sixteen years ago.
Sarah is twenty-four years old and short in stature. She’s Charlie’s sister. The only family she has is her mother, with whom she lives, and an aunt. Ten years ago her father was killed. After his death, her mother had gone insane and was hospitalized for a few months, leaving Sarah in the care of her aunt and uncle.
Twelve-year-old Jenny was an only child and a sweet and beautiful girl who worked well at school.
He is in his 50s and has gunmetal gray with white hair. He seems exhausted and often looks gruff.
He is around thirty, tall and on the thin side. Blake has light brown hair and is broad-shouldered.
He is a colleague of Sarah and the flirt of the faculty room. Since Sarah had never responded to his flirtation, he continues to take an interest in her.
He is older than Sarah for four years. He has some convictions for fights. Danny himself had been abused by his father.
Symbols and motifs
Despite their aversion to each other, Sarah cannot afford to leave and live a life of her own without her mother. She knows that her father would not want her mother to be left alone and does not want to disappoint her father even though he is dead.
Sarah admits that for years she tried to pretend that Charlie never existed. So she tried to flee from the drama. Eventually, she realizes she can’t keep ignoring it and goes to investigate herself, hoping to find new evidence.
Sarah feels that Vickers doesn’t trust her because of the way he addresses her. So she realizes she has to watch out for him.
Blake confronts Sarah about her life. How she allows herself to be treated by people. There is her mother who is not at all grateful for what her daughter does for her and Geoff who does not accept ‘no’. Blake finds it regrettable that she ends their early relationship to please those people.
Sarah can’t feel sorry for Danny. His father was evil and had abused and killed people. But Danny was no better, when he himself had been a victim of his father.
Title statement and book cover
The title Spoorloos is a reference to the common thread in the story, the disappearance of Charlie and the search for the culprit of Jenny’s disappearance. The book cover shows a forest, where a girl walks and leaves a red ribbon on a branch.
Structure and perspective / way of telling
The book is dedicated to the author’s parents and consists of 395 pages, divided into 18 chapters. Before a new chapter begins, there is a flashback of Sarah and how she experienced and survived the disappearance of her brother. The story gives it Sarah’s point of view written in the I person.
Evil is sometimes close by.
Time and place
The story takes place in the present and with flashbacks in the past, in Wilmington Estate near London, Elmview and Surrey.
The idea that the police have no problem with Sarah, who promotes herself to a detective and goes to investigate herself is not really realistic, which sometimes takes strange turns in the story. Sometimes there is a little elaborate on useless details, but the story is well put together and as a reader you get more and more information while you read the book. But in the end you will be deceived. The events that took place in the past ensure that you as a reader understand how the relationship between Sarah and her mother came about. The relationship between Sarah and Blake is more filling than adding value. But as a debut it is certainly not bad.