Excerpt from What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Was Lost

A Novel

by Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost
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    Jun 2008, 256 pages

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Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Crime was out there. Undetected, unseen. She hoped she wouldn't be too late. The bus driver was keeping the bus at a steady 15 m.p.h., braking at every approaching green light until it turned red. She closed her eyes and continued the journey in her head as slowly as she could. She opened them, but still the bus lagged far behind her worst projection. Pedestrians overtook them, the driver whistled.

She looked at the other passengers and tried to deduce their activities for the day. Most were pensioners; she counted four instances of the same huge, blue-checked shopping bag. She made a note of this occurrence in her pad; she knew better than to believe in coincidences.

She read the adverts on the bus. Most were seeking advertisers: 'If you're reading this, then so could your customers.' She wondered if any of the passengers ever took out advertising space on the bus, and what they would advertise if they did.

'Come and enjoy my big, blue-checked shopping bag; it is filled with catfood.'

'I will talk to anyone about anything. I also eat biscuits.'

'Mr and Mrs Roberts, officially recognized brewers of the world's strongest tea. "We squeeze the bag."'

'I smell strange, but not unpleasantly.'

Kate thought she would like to take out an advert for the agency. The image would be a silhouette of her and Mickey within the lens of a magnifying glass. Below, it would say:

Falcon Investigations

Clues found. Suspects trailed. Crimes detected.

Visit our office equipped with the latest surveillance equipment.

She made another note in her pad of the phone number on the advert, to be rung at some later date when the office was fully operational.

Eventually the bus reached the landscaped lawns and forlorn, fluttering flags of the light industrial park that surrounded the newly opened Green Oaks Shopping Centre. She paid particular attention to unit 15 on the Langsdale Industrial Estate, where she had once witnessed what seemed to be an argument between two men. One man had a large moustache, the other wore sunglasses and no jacket on what had been a cold day; she'd thought they both looked of criminal character. After some deliberation and subsequent sightings of a large white van outside the unit, she had come to the conclusion that the two men were trafficking in diamonds. Today all was quiet at the unit.

She opened her pad at a page with 'Unit 15 Surveillance' written at the top. Next to that day's date she wrote in the slightly jerky bus writing that dominated the page: 'No sighting. Collecting another shipment from Holland?'

Fifteen minutes later, Kate was walking through the processed air of the Market Place of Green Oaks. Market Place wasn't a market place. It was the subterranean part of the shopping centre, next to the bus terminals, reserved for the non-prestige, inexpensive low-end stores: fancy goods, cheap chemists, fake perfume sellers, stinking butchers, flammable-clothes vendors. Their smells mingled with the smell of burnt dust from the over-door heaters and made her feel sick. This was as far as most of Kate's fellow passengers ventured into the centre. It was the closest approximation of the tatty old High Street, which had suffered a rapid decline since the centre had opened. Now when the bus drove up the High Street no one liked to look at the reproachful boarded up doorways filled with fast food debris and leaves.

She realized that it was Wednesday and that she'd forgotten to buy that week's copy of the Beano from her usual newsagent. She had no choice but to go to the dingy kiosk in the centre to get it. Afterwards she stood and looked again at the True Detective magazines on the shelf. The woman on the front didn't look like a detective. She was wearing a fedora and a raincoat . . . but nothing else. She looked like someone from a Benny Hill sketch. Kate didn't like it.

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From What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, copyright 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Henry Holt. All rights reserved.

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