1984: 10 year old junior detective Kate Meaney spends her days wandering around Green Oaks Shopping Centre, in Birmingham, looking for suspicious activity. Living with her disinterested grandmother after the desertion of her mother and the death of her father, Kate finds it hard to make friends and her closest confidante is her toy monkey, Mickey.
2003: Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks Shopping Centre, who has few friends and suffers with a sleep disorder, is haunted by the image of a little girl with a toy monkey, which he sees on the security camera at the centre, and which invokes memories of young Kate Meaney, who went missing almost 20 years earlier. Meanwhile, Lisa – a manager at Your Music, in the shopping centre finds a toy monkey stuffed behind a pipe in the centre, and is also reminded of when Kate disappeared. Gradually, the truth of what happened all those years ago is revealed…
I really liked this book. I had a particular interest in reading it as the author is local to the area where I live, and I am very familiar with the shopping centre on which the book is partly based.
The first part of the story centred on Kate Meaney and her life. All she wants to do is become a detective – and maybe find someone who understands her. The only friends she has are Teresa – a schoolfriend, who for different reasons to Kate is also something of an outsider, and Adrian - the son of the local newsagent. Kate feels largely invisible, and certainly it seems as if she is often overlooked by others.
The second part of the book shifted to life at the shopping centre, and in particular for Lisa and Kurt, who don’t know each other, but become friends. The author used to work at just such a shopping centre, and it shows through in some of the anecdotal stories of awkward or eccentric customers, and the trivial incidents which get blown out of all proportion. There was a lot of humour in this section of the book, but also a lot of tenderness. Both Lisa and Kurt seem to be drifting through their lives, finding little satisfaction anywhere and having let go of all of their dreams.
I thought the three main characters of Lisa, Kurt and Kate were all very well drawn, and the author seems to have a real talent for getting into the minds of these slightly off-beat characters.
The writing also flowed beautifully and I found the book hard to put down. Most of the chapters are short and choppy, which makes it a quick and absorbing read. I also particularly liked the little thoughts of various anonymous people around the centre, some of which were very funny and some of which were sad or poignant. One of the things that did jump out at me was how for some people, a huge shopping centre such as the one in this book becomes almost the centre of their lives. It’s a social meeting place, a way of avoiding boredom, somewhere where people can become anonymous and get lost in the crowds.
The book isn’t perfect – a couple of the things that happened struck me as too unrealistic – but it was a very enjoyable read, and I will certainly be looking out for more work by Catherine O’Flynn.