By Andrew O'Hagan
New Press -- 208pp -- $20

You know the feeling. You could be in a big store or a public park. Suddenly, the spouse or child who was with you moments before is gone. You call out and hurriedly look around, but no luck. Then comes the blood-freezing thought: My God, what if...

Andrew O'Hagan's haunting meditation, The Missing, focuses on those who have gone astray--abducted children, murdered adults, runaway teens, emotionally disturbed wanderers, and people who abandon their identities in order to begin new lives. First published in Britain, the book deals mostly with cases that occurred there. But as O'Hagan points out, the phenomenon is universal: ''Hundreds of thousands of faces look out from milk cartons on the breakfast bars of America, as they do from wanted posters in British bus stations...on Italian television, on the windows of supermarkets in Helsinki.''

Combining memoir with reportage, O'Hagan recalls several disappearances from the neighborhood of his youth. Later, he introduces us to runaway teens, including one who describes her drug addiction, rock-group fixations, and only dream--''to sing at Wembley Stadium.'' A policeman declares that when someone goes missing, ''the choice is to pull out all the stops...or use the old sixth sense and say 'she'll come back tomorrow.'''

O'Hagan's final chapter details a case of mass murder: 12 young women killed and buried in a Gloucester couple's backyard, where they lay undiscovered for up to 10 years. Many had never been reported as missing--their friends and families just imagined they had ''gone away.'' Such, the author tells us, is the frayed condition of society today.

By Hardy Green


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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