British author Jon McGregor doesn’t waste a moment getting to the action in his latest work, “The Reservoir Tapes,” a haunting compliment to his Man Booker Prize longlisted novel “Reservoir 13.” If you missed the original, don’t worry: “The Reservoir Tapes” stands tall on its own, well accessible for readers (like this reviewer) who showed up late to McGregor party.
Thirteen-year-old Becky Shaw is visiting rural Derbyshire with her parents when she disappears on a family hike. One minute she’s a petulant teenager, lagging behind in her canvas shoes; the next minute she’s simply gone into thin air.
An interviewer arrives in the village and attempts to piece together a portrait of Becky as well as the village itself on the time of her disappearance. In the interwoven stories that follow we catch glimpses of Becky, seen along the road while Claire and Donna go out for a night of drinking; seen swimming alone in a dangerous quarry by Ian, a former quarry worker who lectures her; seen eating an apple in Ginny’s backyard, reminding her of her daughter who ran away.
Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as stories, each chapter is named after the interview subject, though only the first chapter takes the format of an actual interview — the rest read as closely cropped third-person narratives.
And while not every narrative contains a sliver of Becky, all point to possible motives and suspects in her death, from the frightening — or misunderstood — contract exterminator, to the reclusive — or murderous — man in the woods named, well, Woods.
The landscape itself also is not blameless, and figures widely as both a thing of beauty and something not to be trusted.
Widely accessible as a stand-alone work, “The Reservoir Tapes” turns the concept of a thriller on its head, building suspense through a close examination of the everyday trials of witnesses, neighbors, and those simply passing by.
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The result is sharp, brooding work about the evils present in men and the cruel desires that lurk just below the surface. A frightening work, indeed.