If I were of a mathematical bent, I could probably calculate a formula to determine what proportion of a thriller’s success relies on the initial premise, and what proportion on delivery (plot, characterization, quality of writing). Suffice it to say, Stolen has one of the stronger openings I’ve read – the action starts on the first page and doesn’t let up.
Pearse is a beloved novelist in her native UK, and her books have sold two million copies worldwide. Stolen is the 13th, and it begins with Lotte, a beautiful young blonde, being washed up half-drowned on a beach in Selsey. Her hair has been roughly hacked off, and the purple marks on her wrists and ankles indicate she has been in restraints.
Once revived and hospitalized, Lotte is diagnosed with trauma-related amnesia. Her Jane-Doe status is revoked when Dale, a Brighton hairdresser, recognizes Lotte as the friend she made when the two met on a cruise ship they worked on a couple of years earlier. Towards the end of the cruise, Lotte was raped and then taken under the wing of a God-fearing American couple, and the two women lost touch.
Things get especially interesting when Lotte’s memory begins to resurface, and what she recollects prompts action by her friends and family – leading Lotte and Dale into a confrontation with Lotte’s former ‘rescuers’. Be warned: what has happened to Lotte is every bit as dark as what you might encounter in a Val McDermid or Ian Rankin tale. (I was rather fooled by the chick-lit cover.)
Lotte’s recovery of her memory is what drives the story and prompts the major turning point in the plot. I felt that the remembering is rendered in less than artful fashion; it occurs in a series of conversations between Lotte and other characters, whereas scenes of Lotte alone, recalling, would have been far more affecting. Pearse seems to prefer plot to character development, and she does achieve on that front.
I find it helpful, rather than limiting, to think of novels in genre terms; the if-you-liked-that-you’ll-like-this in a review frequently leads me to my next read. Stolen isn’t easy to define; it’s a suspense thriller, certainly, but there are elements of chick-lit in the romantic connections made and the triumphant female friendship of Dale and Lotte, not to mention the rallying-round of various friends and family members (a Bridget Jones-ish touch that is a hallmark of this genre), and the comeuppance of one most unpleasant character.
It’s also fits into a sub-sub-genre that might be called recovery-from-amnesia fiction, though it’s not the finest instance of this (for a wildly different yet brilliant example, see Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series). Nonetheless, it achieves what I suspect was Pearse’s ambition: an absorbing, suspenseful tale that has something to say about the bonds of friendship, and the testing of them.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewed by Stephanie Jones
Published by Penguin