Having recently finished and enjoyed The Truth Will Out, I have been looking forward to reading Isaac’s new novel, Before It’s Too Late, a police procedural set in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Following an argument with her British boyfriend, Tom, Chinese student Min Li storms out of the pub in a temper and never makes it home. Somewhere along her route, she is abducted and held captive in a dark pit. With only basic provisions, Min Li is at the mercy of her captor.
Part of what makes the book interesting but also harrowing is that the reader gets a first person account from Min Li of her experience in the pit. As she struggles to stay alive, she reflects on her life. Her thoughts turn to her parents and how her boyfriend might be feeling, and she tries to fend off the dawning realisation that she may die. Isaac handles these sections extremely well and it is hard for the reader not to root for Min Li. When a book plot focuses around a kidnap, the writer has to decide whether to have that aspect occur off the page or on. I thought the first person sections were very emotive but they did mean that I knew Min Li was still alive. That said, Isaac has a gift for pulling the reader into the story and involving him/her in what unfolds and there are plenty of surprises.
DI Will Jackman is put in charge of the investigation. With every passing hour, he knows that the chances are receding of finding Min Li alive. I really liked Jackman, and it was refreshing to encounter a detective who isn’t stereotypically alcohol-dependent and lacking in relationship skills. He has challenges of his own, and the readers sees him juggling work, home life and childcare, and trying to come to terms with the personal tragedy which is at the root of these. His character seems human and real and I felt sympathetic towards him as a result. In addition, he comes across as dedicated and capable, and determined to locate the student and find out what the kidnap is motivated by.
In additions to chapters from the viewpoint of Min Li and Jackman, the author also includes ones from the perspective of the captor, and these are simultaneously fascinating and chilling. I found the story extremely interesting, and, as with Isaac’s previous novel, it has a dark plot which taps into contemporary issues in society and possibly real life events. Having recently listened to a few episodes of Serial, Before It’s Too Late reminded me slightly of the real life disappearance of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, USA in 1999. This isn’t a criticism at all and it may be a coincidence, and in any event, I enjoy stories which use a real event as a starting point for something fictionalised. I know a little about Chinese culture from teaching psychology, and it was thought provoking to consider the ways in which the family dynamics affect how Min Lee’s parents in China respond to her disappearance. Their reaction is tradition-bound, and highlights significant cultural differences in family systems, norms and attitudes between western and non-western societies.
Overall, Before It’s Too Late is a compelling read, with a great plot and a rounded, likeable male detective. I look forward to finding out what is next for Jackman.
My copy was obtained from NetGalley.
Vicky Newham © 2015