The MISSING ONE
"Lucy Atkins's engrossing debut immediately immerses the reader in intrigue."
"A gripping page-turner."
—The Sunday Times
"A moving and suspenseful tale of the secrets a family keeps."
—Rachel Hore, author of The Silent Tide
In her gripping debut novel, THE MISSING ONE (Quercus * 2/3/15 * HC * $24.99 * 9781623659899), Lucy Atkins takes us on one woman’s journey to the beautiful and rugged Pacific Northwest to discover the dark secrets of her family’s past so that she can understand and accept herself. Kal McKenzie was never close to her mother Elena, whose coldness towards her spoiled any chance of a good relationship. When Elena dies of cancer, Kal feels forlorn: how do you mourn a mother who, inexplicably, just didn’t seem to love you?
While clearing out Elena’s art studio, Kal finds a drawer packed with postcards, each bearing an identical one-line message from a Canadian gallery owner named Susannah Gillespie: “Thinking of you.” Who is this woman and might she hold the key to her ruined relationship with her mother?
Conflicted by her grief and shaken up from recently seeing a covetous text from an old girlfriend on her husband’s cell phone, Kal impulsively sets off with her toddler Finn to Susannah’s home on a remote British Columbian island, a place of killer whales and storms.
Soon Kal quickly realizes she has made a big mistake. The striking and enigmatic Susannah will only share a few scraps of information about Elena. Kal discovers that her mother was a pioneering orca researcher—an activist trying to save the powerful and dangerous creatures.
As Kal struggles to piece together her mother’s past and what happened between Elena and Susannah in the 1970s, Susannah’s behavior grows more and more erratic. Most worrying of all, Susannah is becoming increasingly preoccupied with little Finn.
Told in two competing narratives, THE MISSING ONE intermixes Kal’s present-day journey with that of her mother’s awakening as an independent woman, scientist and activist in the 70’s. As these two narratives converge, the novel transforms into a white-knuckle thriller where the secrets of the past imperil the lives of the present.
Interweaving local lore of how orcas protect those of their own who travel away from home, and guide them back safely, Lucy Atkins wrestles with the question of how the past influences the present, and the unexpected ways other people—sometimes even strangers—can own our histories.
About the Author
Lucy Atkins is a feature journalist, book critic, and author. She writes many newspapers and magazines in the UK including The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Red, Woman and Home, and Grazia. She is the author of a number of health books and is a media commentator on parenting and cultural issues. She is a consultant on advertising campaigns and produces written materials for documentary films. She has been a lead fiction reviewer for The Sunday Times for 15 years, and chairs events at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Lucy has a degree in English from Oxford University (1990), was a Fulbright Scholar for an M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Oxford with her husband and three children and all their pets. This is her debut novel.
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER: QUERCUS publishes under the imprints Quercus, MacLehose Press, Quercus Children’s Books, Jo Fletcher Books, and Heron Books. We publish a range of high-quality commercial, literary, and translated fiction, as well as nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, and juvenile titles. Quercus is a Hachette company.
A Conversation with Lucy Atkins
Q. THE MISSING ONE has very strong women at its center – did you base those women on anyone in particular?
A. Elena, the mother in THE MISSING ONE, was inspired by a real woman – one of the first scientists (and possibly the first woman) to study killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1980s this woman was going out on the ocean in all conditions, filming, photographing and listening to killer whales (even when her baby was born – she just took him with her!). My story is entirely made up, and Elena’s personality is too – it’s is not the same as this real whale expert at all – but the details of life up there on a floating house in a very remote island, and of the work itself – this woman’s passion for studying killer whales – all came from one real and remarkable whale researcher.Q. Your book is, amongst other things, a meditation on the power of maternal love – why does that subject particularly fascinate you?
A. I am a mother myself (I have three children) and I’m interested in the complexities of motherhood, the ambivalence, and also how a mother’s love can be an extraordinary force. I read a newspaper story, whilst writing The Missing One, where a young mother, this petite woman aged only 20, had fought off two intruders in her house in the middle of the night. The police officer said: ‘There’s nothing more dangerous than a mother protecting her child.’ I love that. Women are capable of superhuman feats when it comes to our children’s safety.
Q. Your main character, Kali McKenzie, travels out to a remote British Columbian island, “a place of killer whales and storms” – a sense of place seems very important to you in your work – and vital for this novel – why is that?
A. I lived in Seattle for four years; my second child was born there, and I love that part of the world. I think that setting my story there was a way to keep hold of the place and my memories of it. The landscape of the Pacific Northwest – all those pine trees, the dramatic coastline and mountains around Seattle and Vancouver – is so haunting and beautiful. I still miss it today. I also think it’s a brilliantly symbolic place – parts of it are so remote, on the edge, cut off, assaulted by storms, with an ocean full of killer whales stretching out for thousands of miles all around. It’s the ideal location for very worrying things to start happening.
Q. You originally set out to write a very different version of this novel. Can you talk about the evolution to THE MISSING ONE we see today?
A. My first draft was written entirely from Elena’s perspective (Elena is the whale researcher and the mother of Kali, my main character). It was set in the 1970s and 80s and I couldn’t make it work. I was so despondent about it that I abandoned the whole book for almost a year. That was the lowest point. Then I realized that I needed to see Elena’s story through the eyes of her daughter – that my novel was really about family secrets and motherhood – and that’s where Kali came in. Kali’s in her late thirties, from Oxford, the mother of a little toddler. I could totally relate to her life and concerns. As soon as I did that switch, the book started to work and I knew I was onto something.