As far as I can remember, Dear Laura is the first thing I’ve read by Gemma Amor, but it probably won’t be the last.
Laura’s childhood sweetheart Bobby disappears, taken by a man with a van. One year later on her fourteenth birthday Laura receives a letter from the abductor. He tells her that Bobby is dead, but if she cooperates he will reveal the whereabouts of his body. Subsequent letters arrive, demanding tokens – her underwear, her toothbrush – and giving Laura map coordinates. Laura is too scared to tell the police, with threats to herself and her family, and the possibility of never finding Bobby, not even when the abductor demands that she harm herself. In between letters Laura manages to make a life of sorts for herself, but the cloud always hangs over her until a chance comes to resolve matters one way or another, to achieve a long overdue closure.
Simply written this was a compelling story, the tale of a cat and mouse relationship between abuser and victim. As Laura comes to understand it was never really about Bobby, but rather about controlling her, making her dance to the killer’s tune. In some ways Laura is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, unable to shake off the malign influence of her abuser, and this is where the book is on shaky ground to my mind, but Amor does enough to make us accept that Laura’s actions are credible, even if most other people in her shoes would have gone to the police. At the same time there is a subtext on the power of first love, of how we can never forget the first person we kissed. The letters from the abuser and the things he asks of Laura are unsettling, both for the almost restrained nature of the forfeits and the self-justifying language of the abuser, almost as if he feels that he and Laura have a romantic relationship. The struggle against the wilderness through which Laura must journey in the story’s end game and the way in which her ‘problem’ is resolved reek of authenticity, while the abuser and his setting are shown in the most repellent of terms.
Overall this was an entertaining and fast paced slice of horror fiction, one that involves us in its protagonist plight and makes us feel for her suffering, with a subtext on the nature of evil that gives the reader something to think about in among all the cruelty and violations.