In Bulls Mouth, Texas seven year old Maggie was snatched from her bedroom. Seven years later, still not found, she is declared dead. The only way her mother was able to cope was to finally move on, to marry again and start a new family, to see the funeral of her daughter without a body. Maggie’s father Ian has never moved on though; he remains estranged from the son he feels should have done more to prevent her abduction and he has never given up on Maggie. He works as a police dispatcher and one day takes a call from his distressed daughter, who has escaped. When the police arrive on the scene she is not there. Ian had suspected this as the phone call had ended in a scream, but he knows he was right to have never given up. And so begins his search to find Maggie, knowing that she is closer than he ever imagined…
With his CWA New Blood Dagger winning Acts of Violence, a second novel Low Life and now The Dispatcher, Jahn can be marked out for one thing certainly: exploring a bleak landscape whether humanity’s darkest recesses of the mind or geographically. Bulls Mouth is a grey town of little attraction populated by those who ‘let live’ to the extent its people have become drenched in ambivalence and indifference. Maggie has been held locally by a couple – Henry and Beatrice – who are clearly dysfunctional, ill-educated and misguided; who have wanted a child to complete their family with no idea what that means in practice. And here Jahn produces a particularly well-drawn character where Maggie, having been locked up in a basement for seven years is a child of obvious arrested development but who clings on to the values and strengths instilled in her by her father. Unsurprisingly, she has created an imaginary friend in her isolation, but she also capable of questioning Borden’s motives in her plans to escape.
What follows does result in a violently executed chase to recover Maggie with the principals on both sides capable of extreme actions that test them. Jahn’s clipped and economical prose is to the bone, much like the impact of the bullets of which he writes. Where the plot requires some suspension of disbelief with one convenient act of discovery and where our understanding of what made Henry and Beatrice as they are unexplored to a satisfying degree, Jahn’s The Dispatcher is near pitch perfect. This is human life as we dare not imagine it can be, packaged in an adrenaline-pumped storyline and one that will leave you with our lower jaw resting on your chest. I don’t believe anyone else is offering Jahn’s insight and style of writing today, so if you can stomach it, do try him out and make sure you allocate sufficient hours to read in one sitting. This continues to be outstanding work from Jahn.
[Warning: contains violence against a minor and one scene of torture.]