The Missing is a creepy horror story that deftly depicts many different characters and their internal monsters. With lyrical and at times poetic writing, it features haunting portrayals of an ancient predator that arises and devours a small town. If you like horror, Langan might be a new author to check out.
The story opens with an eerie first person narration of the devastation of Corpus Christi (Maine, not Texas) and then almost immediately begins the story of what happened. The first person narrative drops and many characters are described in vivid detail, so that by the end of the story we are familiar with many different psyches. Lois Larkin is the first, as she takes her class on a field trip to Bedford, which years ago had a major fire and was basically evacuated. Because the CDC and other governmental agencies have given the all-clear, Lois believes it safe to take her children through the dead woods and teach them a lesson about nature, both human and otherwise.
While on this trip, one of Lois’s troublemakers, James Walker, leaves the group and wanders deep into the woods. Lois doesn’t notice the absence of her student until they are back in Corpus Christi, but by that time James has found a clearing in the woods lined with dead animals that clearly killed each other. He digs up some bones and thus a virus is born again in him. James is already a disturbed boy, but now something speaks to him and lives inside him. He turns animalistic and begins spreading the virus to some of his other classmates.
The contamination spreads very rapidly and soon infects many people in the small town with various symptoms. The town starts shutting down as the infection prevails and those whose bodies do not accept it die. The CDC comes to try to find the cause and a cure, but quickly leaves when it understands the virulence of the disease and sets up a quarantine.
This story is full of metaphors and the descriptions of characters focus on a lot of their negative thoughts. The virus can root out those thoughts and prey on the character’s darkest memories to attain its goal. Because of this, much of this book was negative and certainly disturbing. It seemed that no one has a positive thought; instead they consistently think awful, grotesque things about their neighbors and loved ones. And this was before the infection targeted them. I also learned quickly that I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters, because the virus started infecting, killing, or devouring everyone.
This is Langan’s second book and the writing is very smooth, with an ability to pull the reader into the plot. It is certainly suspenseful and creepy. The character descriptions are colorful and fun to read at times. Even though the cast is large, the author nicely details the minds and motives of all the characters. I could have used a bit more information on the infection itself, however. Except when showing how it affects a person or when it’s given a scientific explanation, the virus is vaguely portrayed. These are often moments when the writing turns poetic, making it difficult to discern whether the infection was simply a highly advanced virus or an actual sentient evil thing.
While well-written and intriguing, I probably would not recommend this book, although I might recommend the author herself. I truly love the horror genre, partly because many horrors include a positive side amidst the terror, whether that is love, good vanquishing evil, or something else. The Missing lacked positive plot twists and the very unhappy ending just made me sad. Because the writing did captivate me, however, I will likely try this author again to see if she includes anything uplifting.