A brilliant and compelling story that’s almost unbearably tense. 5 Stars.

What would it be like to leave your whole life behind you, never to go near it again? New name, new home, new friends. Nothing the same.

Gillian McAllister’s new book, How to Disappear (2020), explores this theme.

The protagonist, 16year-old Zara, witnesses the brutal, unprovoked and senseless murder of a homeless man by two rising football youth stars.

Nearly a year later in court she is tricked into revealing that in fact she lied in court; the killing was not totally unprovoked. The homeless man did object to the two abusing him. Therefore, the crime is suddenly deemed to be self-defence and the youths go free. But after a year in prison their football careers are in tatters.

Witness protection
Shortly afterwards a group is formed with the sole intention of finding Zara and punishing her. The police take the threats seriously enough that they put Zara and her mother into witness protection, with the instruction that their old life is over forever, new names, new home, new friends, no contact ever with the husband, the father, the sister.

Both mother and daughter find their isolation incredibly difficult and stressful (who wouldn’t?). They cannot bring themselves to entirely follow the rules. Twice they accidentally reveal where they are and twice the group almost find them.

At this stage we begin to realise that there is more to the original murder than meets the eye. The utterly relentless pursuit of Zara is due to more than just pique.

The police can’t do much. The boys have been found not guilty of the murder in a court of law, so apparently nothing can be done to look into their activities now. Also, as Zara is considered to be a discredited witness, the police don’t appear to be allowed to help. Zara’s father steps in and infiltrates the group to try to find something concrete that will show their murderous intent.

What follows is very intense, harrowing and heart breaking. At no stage did I feel confident that this would end well for any of them.

Unbearable tension
The whole book is written in the present tense, something I usually rather dislike, but here it is perfect. It gives the story an almost unbearable tension and immediacy. I very much like both Zara, who is studious and serious, and her mother who is a bit of a hippie. Both of them are so unhappy it almost drips off the page.

I will not reveal how it ends, just that I read this book in almost one sitting. It was that good.

I don’t that often give 5 Stars, but this deserves it. For the intense writing, for the unusual story line and for the utterly believable description of witness protection.

In a postscript Gillian McAllister admits that it was very difficult to get an insight into the witness protection programme, understandably so because the real officials were not about to give away their highly secret practises just for the sake of a crime story. Therefore, much of it she created from common sense and her imagination. To my mind she’s done a pretty good job with that.
Review by: Freyja

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