Review: Lost Boys, by James Miller

LostBoys - Copy

(Little, Brown: 978-1-4087-0088-4)

(Review first published in ASIM 42)

While its title references Peter Pan, the slip-cover of James Miller’s debut novel overlays sinister red and black silhouettes on a messy grey background.  So what are we to expect from its contents?

James Miller is a British writer and academic.  Lost Boys charts the descent into darkness, despair, and uncertainty of the well-to-do Dashwood family, following the kidnap and subsequent release of Arthur by insurgents in a Middle Eastern city (where Arthur has been working to promote British industrial interests).  Returning to London, Arthur is still understandably shaken by his ordeal, but London, it seems, doesn’t offer the haven that might have been expected.  There are a series of sightings of mysterious, impossible children – boys of middle eastern, or at least foreign, appearance – lurking around the Dashwood home, and at the secondary school attended by Arthur’s  son Timothy, boys have begun to go missing.  Something is afoot which the institutions of British society – the government, the police, the schools – have no understanding of, and no answer for.  The apparitions, and the vanishings, are clearly connected; but who are these ‘lost boys’?

Lost Boys is a story told from several perspectives.  We see the situation through Arthur’s eyes, and Timothy’s, as well as through the eyes of Harry, Timothy’s younger brother, Susan, Arthur’s wife, and Veca, the family’s housekeeper / au pair.  This rounded, overlapping portrayal ensures that when, inevitably, Timothy joins the ranks of the missing children, we feel the family’s pain from all sides.  Miller captures very well the grief and anguish of the situation, and the inner voices by and large feel credible to the reader.  Further detail is provided when Arthur employs a detective, Rupert Buxton, after the initial police investigation into Timothy’s disappearance has come to nothing.  Will Buxton be able to uncover the truth behind the Lorelei-like lure of the mysterious children, beckoning for others to run away and join them?  Buxton’s investigation produces a series of taped interviews with the remnants of Timothy’s family, through which Arthur ploughs, hoping himself to find answers which Buxton has been unable to provide.

There’s a definite menace, a presence, and an unsettling intangibility to Lost Boys.  If there’s a speculative component to the story, it’s in the manifestation of the mystery children; but predominantly, this is a study of character, a comment on ideology and society, and a rite of passage.  As a first novel, it holds up very well.  I’m not convinced that the ending provides an entirely fitting conclusion to the story – there’s a sense in which Miller has decided to allow matters to spiral out of control, and the coda smacks perhaps a little too strongly of symbolism, but all up, this is admirably solid stuff, affronting and memorable.  It’ll be interesting to see how Miller follows this up.


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