What Was Lost
Author: Catherine O’Flynn
Narrator: Catherine Skinner
Published 2011 by AudioGO
6 hours, 54 minutes – Unabridged

What Was Lost audiobook coverIf you enjoy the work of Barbara Vine, in which the sins of the past are reflected upon from the vantage point of the present, you may enjoy What Was Lost, first published in print in 2007, produced as an audiobook in 2008 by BBC Audiobooks and re-released in 2011 under the new AudioGO name. Readers of Ruth Rendell and her Vine alter-ego will feel at home with Catherine O’Flynn’s portrayal of the dysfunction and malaise of working- and middle-class Brits amid the relentless decline of just about everything in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The story begins in the early 1980s, at which time the listener becomes well acquainted with Birmingham, England, from the point of view of ten-year-old Kate Meaney. Specifically, the neighborhood surrounding Green Oaks Shopping Center, where the precocious and observant loner Kate spends all her free time people-watching and practicing to become a detective. Exhibiting an endearing blend of street smarts and naivete, Kate hangs out at the mall all day, targeting suspicious types for surveillance and making careful notes in her notebook — all the while toting her “business partner,” a stuffed toy monkey named Mickey in pinstripes and spats, concealed in her backpack. Kate lives with her grandmother, who pays the girl no attention whatsoever and plans to pack her off to boarding school as soon as Kate can take the entrance exam and qualify for a full scholarship. Junior detective Kate Meaney very much wants to avoid this fate, wishing only to pursue her work in and around Green Oaks, while continuing her daily chats with her best friend, 22-year-old Adrian Palmer, the son of a neighborhood sweet-shop owner. She also strikes up a tentative but promising alliance with Teresa, a girl from her class and the first friend her own age that Kate has ever had.

At this point, the setting shifts to 2003, where the story focuses on Lisa, shift manager at a record store in Green Oaks Shopping Center, and Kurt, a mall security guard. Unacquainted with each other at first, they both remember the news sensation created nearly 20 years earlier when little Kate Meaney disappeared without a trace. They both have their own very personal and deeply compelling reasons for remembering the occasion. Discovering Lisa’s and Kurt’s connections with Kate and her disappearance is part of the pleasure of listening to the unfolding story of What Was Lost, as is reflecting on the different facets of the title’s meaning.

Narrator Catherine Skinner authentically breathes life into the story and the characters, helping the reader to envision and inhabit a small corner of suburban Birmingham, then and now. Particularly adept at capturing the youthful Kate, Skinner also does a fine job voicing Lisa, Kurt, and the entire array of people, both named and anonymous, who populate Green Oaks and its environs. Not being a dialects expert, I can’t say for sure whether her Midlands accent is truly authentic, but it certainly sounds convincing. It’s always refreshing to hear British readers whose diction varies from the BBC standard.

While the addition of a sort of supernatural element and a few problems with pacing and structure keep O’Flynn’s debut from being quite as riveting and satisfying as Barbara Vine at her best, it’s still a very good, thumbs-up listen. There is much to enjoy here from a relative newcomer who shows a lot of promise.