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The Unfound

Book Review
The Missing Files: Unsolved New Zealand missing persons cases by Scott Bainbridge (Plus One, $39.99)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

the-missing-filesI always read whatever Scott Bainbridge writes. Especially his triumvirate of Without Trace (2005); Still Missing (2008) and this new title, which is an updated amalgam of several of the disappearances related in the first two books, with the addition of six new cases.

Why?

Because his topoi intrigue me. Missing people who have been missing for quite some time. Who may have been murdered. May have committed suicide. May have willingly vanished themselves. May have met with some terrible accident somewhere in this country’s hard scrabble back country somewhere.

Everyone loves a good mystery, and all of Bainbridge’s missing people certainly match this criterion. The disappearances of some are more bizarre than others – take Heidi Charles’ baffling evanescence from main streets of Rotorua, as one prime example; while some are almost certainly the victims of drug cabals gone awry and seeking vengeance, as in the cases of Marion Granville and Lionel Russell.  One or two would seem more straightforward, given no sighting of them has ever been made since – take Hazel Latta and Kenneth Balfour for example.

Whatever the situation, Bainbridge captures well the sheer despair of loved ones, the frustrations of the detectives searching for culptits or conclusive evidence, the fascination of the ‘general’ New Zealand public with historical enigmas such as the Mona Blades situation (interestingly Bainbridge does not mention anything about possible Highway 61 involvement in her disappearance all those years ago.) He objectively presents as much pertinent information as he can and never conclusively claims concrete solutions, most likely as he cannot. Indeed, as the back cover blurb declares, ‘The only thing no one seems able to provide is answers.’

Given also his fluid and fluent writing (though it would have been great if Māori was printed with the macron; while we don’t actually inhabit pā as on page 107 regarding the intriguing Betty Wharton scenario – I think marae is what was meant) readers will be drawn on quickly to read a chapter without pause and then to shoot on onto a new one.

At the same time readers will be cogitating about what possibly could have happened to Jefferie Hill in Tokoroa and to Jean Martin all those years ago in and around Wilton’s Bush.

Yes, there are a few editorial blind spots, in that sometimes the same facts are repeated within a couple of pages, but the overall ambience is that of a hard-to-put down thriller, that not only draws you on, but also gets you more than a little concerned, that in such a small country, individuals can so swiftly dematerialize, that villains may be escaping capture, that decades pass and no one is any the wiser. Come on citizens, some one has to know what happened to Sydney Patrick Fisk (1956); Craig Hampton (1999); John Beckenridge and his stepson Mike (2015)…

There is not much more for me to say, except that I wish Bainbridge had concentrated on new cases, such as two he mentions in his summation of the weird circumstances surrounding  the missing Iraena Asher in Piha in 2004, namely Cherie Vousden and Kim Bambus — because I have read about the ‘usual suspects’ already in his other gripping books — but that is just me being selfish. The Missing Files is a fine introduction to his body of work and I guess I will have to wait, eh. I also hope this book impels some sorts of solution.

It is apposite to conclude with the following, I reckon:

He aha te mea nui o tēnei ao? [What is the important thing of this world?]

He tāngata he tāngata he tāngata. [People, people, people.]

Except I am now well tempted to alter the last line to read, he tāngata ngaro. [Missing people.]

They deserve to rest in peace.