Grazia Book Club’s Latest Read: The Girls Who Disappeared

In Claire Douglas’s The Girls Who Disappeared the secrets of a small, sleepy town provide us with an unputdownable thriller

by Maria Lally |
Published on

In 1998 four excitable teenage friends are driving home after a night out with their whole lives – and the long winding road known locally as The Devil’s Corridor – stretched out ahead of them. In a flash everything changes, when the car crashes and three of the girls mysteriously disappear in a case that rocks, and at times divides, their small town and the people living in it.

Twenty years later, BBC journalist Jenna Halliday arrives in the sleepy Wiltshire town of Stafferbuy to create a podcast about the case of the missing three girls, something that unsettles some of the locals. Most of all Olivia, who was the driver – and sole survivor – of the crash and has spoken little of the events of that night ever since.

‘I came up with the idea for the book because I was a teenager living in a small town, and part of a group of teenage girls who took it in turns to drive each other around after yet another night out,’ the author Claire Douglas tells Grazia. ‘And I had this thought, what happened if one night our car had crashed and one or some of those girls simply vanished?’

Along with the two main characters Jenna and Olivia, we meet their families, friends, the local man, Ralph, who found Olivia on the night of the crash and saved her life, and Dale, the newly divorced detective who has been drafted in to reopen and examine the decades old case.

But nothing and nobody in this book, which is told in bite-size chapters that you find yourself compelled to race through, is how it seems. The book is also told over several timelines – 1998, the present day, and a time when a group of friends are holidaying in Thailand, which is told in flashbacks throughout the book. At first sight this last timeline doesn’t seem to appear to have anything to do with the first two, until it slowly dawns on the reader that the holiday might just hold the key to what really happened on the night of the crash.

The author also seems to suggest – as indeed do some of the locals – that the strange and unexplainable goings on in the rural town may be down to it being haunted. But is human wrongdoing at play here, or something more sinister?

‘I really wanted to explore this issue,’ says Claire. ‘Years ago, I was driving with a friend and I saw a man on a bike in the road just ahead of me. I swerved slightly and drove around him, but when my friend asked me what I was doing I realised she hadn’t seen him. And when I looked back nobody was there. Was something amiss, or did the cyclist simply turn off the road?’

The dreary autumnal weather and the description of the town, with its wet and winding roads and the thick, dark forest surrounding it, add to the sinister feeling that runs through the book. ‘I like my books to be dark and rainy,’ explains Claire. ‘It’s the time of year, and the kind of book, that makes you want to be at home – with your curtains drawn tight for safety.’

The Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas is out now

Grazia's Book Club Gives Its Verdict

‘I could not put this down! I was immediately drawn into this strange tragedy in a small town and I devoured it in just a few hours, eager to know what had happened. With several timelines showing us the past and present, we know the stories will merge but how, and why? It kept me guessing until the end.’ Michaela

‘If you’re hooked on true crime podcasts this book takes you behind the scenes, behind closed doors, and straight into a twenty-year-old mystery that will have you double checking you’ve locked the door.’ Fiona

‘I really enjoyed this. Every chapter was left on a cliff hanger and I really enjoyed the plot twist, which I didn’t see coming. Would definitely recommend to a friend.’ Bronwyn

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