What was lost


“Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn’t be late.”

It is 1984. Kate Meany is hard at work as a young detective. She cases the Green Oaks Shopping Centre with her partner Mickey, a stuffed monkey. Together, they observe the shoppers, making notes in her notebook:

“She knew that one day she would see someone by the banks with a different look on his face – anxiety, or cunning, or hate, or desire – and she would know that this person was a suspect. So she scanned faces for any flicker of deviance.”

When not at Green Oaks, she’s often in the company of Adrian Palmer, the laid back son of the local newsagent, and the first and so far only client of Kate’s Falcon Investigations, and quite sadly, the closest anyone has come to being her best friend.

Then one day she disappears.

Fast forward to 2003 and Green Oaks security guard Kurt is on the night shift, watching the closed-circuit tv when he catches a glimpse of a young girl with a monkey sticking out of her backpack. And becomes entranced by that image. Adrian’s sister Lisa, who works at a discount music store in the mall, finds that stuffed monkey one evening, adding a little bit of a ghostly presence to the book. She has her own connection to Kate as Adrian was suspected to have something to do with her disappearance.

I came into this story – as perhaps I do for quite a few books – not knowing anything about it except for the fact that O’Flynn’s book won the First Novel Award at the 2007 Costa Book Awards, and was shortlisted for the overall Costa Book of the Year Award. So it took me completely by surprise that the first portion of the book was told by young Kate, and such a compelling, delightful (and of course a little sad) character she is. I have to admit that the second part of the book, with Kurt and Lisa, set me back a little initially, as they are less interesting than that precocious girl. But that desire, that need to discover Kate’s fate pushed me on. And the claustrophobic setting of Green Oaks – full of fallen dreams and mindless wanderers in search of the next bargain – is just absorbing.

What an absolute surprise of a book. Catherine O’Flynn pulls it off brilliantly with her rather amazing debut novel.


I read this book for the What’s In a Name challenge (challenge page)


Catherine O’Flynn was born in Birmingham, England, in 1970, where she grew up in and around her parents’ candy store. She has been a teacher, Web editor, and mystery customer—and this, her first novel, draws on her experience of working in record stores. After spending several years in Barcelona, she now lives in Birmingham.

What Was Lost. 2007.
The News Where You Are. 2010.


  1. I absolutely LOVED the first half of the book, and I understand what you mean about feeling yanked away from her (but, yes, I think it was deliberate). That book made me ache to re-read Harriet the Spy…even thinking about Kate makes me want to go hang out with Harriet again…


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