Have you ever thought about walking out on your life? Have you ever daydreamed about how you would set about disappearing, what you would take with you, where you might go?
I know I have. Of all the possible mysteries out there – many of them deeply unpleasant – there’s an appeal, isn’t there, in becoming your very own mystery? And the really enticing thing is, it would be so easy to do. Simply walk out your door and keep walking. Perhaps go travelling. Perhaps come back one day. Who knows how many alternative lives you may end up living? Who knows what an alternative version of you might be capable of?
But what if walking away from your life wasn’t your choice? What if you were in danger because someone was hunting you? What if the police and the authorities couldn’t help you? Who might you turn to then?
That was the question I asked myself as I sat down to write Long Time Lost. I’ve long been fascinated by stories about missing persons. I’m intrigued by why and how people disappear and how, against all odds, they might return. I’ve written before about witness protection in my thriller, Safe House, which grew out of rumours I had heard of the Isle of Man being used to relocate people involved in UK witness protection schemes. But I had never before heard of anyone providing a private and highly illegal protection service to help people relocate and lead completely new lives with new identities.
I began to think about who might operate such a last-ditch operation and I came up with the character of Nick Miller. Nick has spent the past few years living in the shadows across Europe under an assumed identity. He’s been on the run, falsely accused of killing his wife and daughter. Worse, he used to oversee the witness protection unit of the Greater Manchester Police force – a unit that failed to protect his own family from the gravest of dangers. So Nick has learned to his own cost what can go wrong when the system fails vulnerable people and his solution is to build his own system in its place.
How do you make people disappear and stay hidden? I think you need a dedicated team, a small and trustworthy unit, and Miller has assembled his own. Hanson is a computer expert and talented forger with secrets in his past. Becca is an ex-soap actress who can teach people to change everything about their appearance and behaviour.
And the system has worked brilliantly… until Nick decides to help the one person he really shouldn’t. Kate Sutherland is hiding on the Isle of Man from Connor Lane, the wealthy crook Miller holds responsible for the murders of his wife and daughter. By stepping in to prevent an assassination attempt on Kate’s life, Nick places his entire network in jeopardy.
Now, I could have relocated Nick’s clients throughout the UK, but what would be the fun in that? Instead, his clients are dotted around Europe, from Rome to Prague, from Hamburg to central Switzerland, and in order to save them, Nick and Kate must race across the continent, taking more and more risks, facing ever greater danger.
And meanwhile, a UK investigation is ongoing, overseen by a female police detective who is determined to bring Nick to justice.
So as it turns out, in Long Time Lost, at least, the reality of vanishing isn’t quite as simple as it might appear. But if you pick up a copy of the book, my hope is it might be a story you can get lost in for a time.