Fourteen year old Stephanie is at the annual school picnic in her small New Zealand town. She’d rather be off with her friends but she’s been forced to come along with her mum, Minna, so she can help look after her two younger brothers and the baby of the family, four year old Gemma, while their dad is at work even though it’s a Saturday. The atmosphere is lazy and relaxed as the day is filled with kids’ races, a barbecue lunch for all, the arrival of an amphibious plane on the lake, a game of cricket and ice cream. But when it’s time to go home Gemma is missing. There is initial optimism that she has just wandered off and will be quickly found but hours…then days of searching and months of investigation fail to find a trace of her. Nearly 20 years later when Stephanie is in the last period of her training as a psychiatrist she meets someone who leads her to believe she might finally be able to find the answer to what happened to Gemma.
Some novels grab you from the opening lines and don’t let go until the last page has been turned. HUNTING BLIND is one of them. Partly it’s due to the use of the present tense to tell the story which is the kind of literary device I often don’t like because it feels forced but Richardson is clearly a talented writer who wields this particular tool with perfection, ensuring we endure the emotions of the characters as they move from unease to urgency then despair Being immediately drawn into the novel is helped along by the (falsely) comforting familiarity of the opening scene. Who hasn’t been to some big event where everyone keeps a loose eye on everyone else’s kids but no one really worries because you all know each other and it’s a beautiful day and the thought of something bad happening doesn’t even cross your mind? Somewhere in the middle of the novel it becomes clear what probably happened to Gemma but even this doesn’t diminish the suspense of the book at all.
Stephanie is the person we grow to know best and she is a well drawn and compelling character. We feel her anguish and guilt at losing her little sister and see the long term impacts it has on her personality. This is contrasted by the impact of the disappearance on others in the family, particularly Minna who does not react in the ways society – or her other children – expect which makes her a less sympathetic character, though not a less compelling one.
In addition to being a fantastically written novel of psychological suspense and tension HUNTING BLIND even offers a terrific sense of its South Island setting and some genuine insight into the problems inherent in modern mental health systems. It’s a very accomplished book which has made me extremely keen to read more by Paddy Richardson.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Penguin 
Length 305 pages
Book Series standalone
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