For families and other loved ones, one of the major differences between a missing person case and a murdercase is the possibility that the missing person will return. Sometimes, people nurse that hope for years. That’s part of the reason, for instance, that many families won’t move from their homes if a loved one goes missing, so that that person will be able to find them. And there are stories of people who’ve been missing for years, who do return.
It doesn’t happen often, but the fact that it happens at all gives people hope. And sometimes, people sustain that hope, even when it’s clear to just about everyone else that the missing person isn’t coming back. We see that happen in crime fiction, and it can add a solid layer of both character development and suspense. After all, the person who’s disappeared could come back…
In Pascal Garnier’s Boxes, for instance, we meet book illustrator Brice Casadamant. In the main plot thread, he and his wife, Emma, have bought a house in the countryside, and are ready to make the move. Emma’s gone on a trip, though, so Brice has deal with the frustrations and aggravations of the move by himself. He gets to the new house and waits for Emmy to return. In fact, he’s so confident she’ll be back soon that he doesn’t even unpack the moving boxes, as he might not put things where Emmy wants them. But, as time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that Emmy is not coming back. And we slowly learn why. Brice won’t accept that, though, and lives among his unpacked boxes, rummaging through them when he needs something. Gradually, Brice sinks deeper and deeper into depression, and comes close to a complete mental break with reality. He can’t bring himself to work on his latest illustration commission, he won’t unpack, and he doesn’t have many social contacts. Among other things, this story shows how strong the need can be to believe that a loved one will return.
In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck is assigned to head a new department – Department Q – dedicated to looking into cases ‘of special interest.’ These are ‘cold’ cases that the police department has been under pressure to solve. Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, begin with the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. According to reports, she was on a ferry ride with her younger brother, Uffe, when she went missing. The explanation at the time was that she went overboard in a terrible accident. But there are pieces of evidence that suggest that she may still be alive. If she is, then Mørck and Assad might not have very much time to find her. As you might imagine, Mørck pays a visit to Uffe to get his perspective on what happened. But Uffe has communication problems and some mental health problems. So, he isn’t able to be of much help. Still, we learn that, in his way, Uffe thinks his sister may be alive, too. And, in the end, we find out the truth about what happened to her.
Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she is fourteen, her younger sister, Gemma, goes missing during a community picnic at Lake Wanaka. Despite a thorough search and police investigation, Gemma is never found. For a long time, though, the family hopes that she will return. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is beginning her career as a psychiatrist in Dunedin. She gets a new patient who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to her own. This patient’s younger sister also went missing and was also never found. After so much time, Stephanie is sure that Gemma isn’t going to return, but she does want to lay her ghosts to rest. And she wants to find out who is responsible for the devastation wrought on her family, and that of her patient. So, she returns to her home town of Wanaka, and starts to look for answers. And, in the end, she gets them. Among other things, this story shows the terrible toll that waiting and hoping takes on families.
In one plot thread of Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, Mitch and Pauline Fisher go to Market Day with their young son, Nathan, when he goes missing. There’s no trace of him, not even after a thorough search. And it’s not spoiling the story to say that the Fishers never give up hope that Nathan will return. Their story is connected to another story, this one of fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. One day, he finally gets up the courage he needs to run away from his abusive father, Joe. Adam’s been kept under lock and key, so he knows almost nothing of the world. This makes him, of course, very vulnerable. But he finds an ally in a young man named Billy Benson, who visits the house just as Adam is leaving. In the week that follows, Billy uses his streetwise knowledge to take care of both of them, and as the week goes by, they get mixed up in real danger.
And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. Dunedin’s had to deal with five straight days of hard rain. Then, a twister comes through, and the police have to deal with a series of problems. Against this backdrop, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who went missing two weeks earlier, is discovered in Ross Creek. Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is given the case, and it won’t be easy for him. Nine years earlier, his own daughter, Beth, went missing and never returned. Judd and his wife, Kate, are still coping with that awful loss. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been asked to do this sort of case, but a ‘flu epidemic has left the police department with a serious shortage of people. So, there is no choice but Judd. As Judd and his team work to find out the truth about Tracey’s death, we also see how he and his wife have gotten through the last years, and how a part of both of them still hopes that Beth will come home.
And that’s what can be so hard about a missing person case. There isn’t the closure that comes from knowing a person has died. So, it’s not surprising that some people whose loved ones go missing still have hope – even after a long time – that their loved ones will return.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s Sleepless Nights.