The second in the Cass Diamond series MISSING PIECES is set in far North Queensland, with Cass Diamond investigating connected cold case disappearances. In 1992, toddler Yasmin Munoz went missing from a picnic spot near Cairns. In 2012 local businessman and former mayor Andrew Todd dies, leaving directions in his will to search for the missing child, by now a young woman if she's still alive. Yasmin is the daughter of Todd and a local mixed race woman, who has since died. Once Diamond starts digging around she discovers there's another mysterious disappearance in the Todd family - the fiancée of Todd's son vanished on the night of their engagement party, and no trace of her has ever been found either.
Setting something like this in a small community has provided de Costa with a real opportunity for a closed room styled mystery, enhanced by the interwoven thread lines in a single family. As is always the way with these sorts of disappearances, the rumour mill in small towns provides heaps of possible scenarios, and much finger pointing - from the implications of poor mothering, question marks over the girl's father, the weird coincidence of the missing fiancée and a heap of possible motives. The official line on Yasmin's disappearance was that she was washed away when sudden rain flooded the picnic ground she was playing in, but the complication has always been that her mother left her supposedly supervised by an unknown person for a while, whilst helping with an injured boy. The lack of a body has never helped that conclusion, although it's Cairns, Queensland and there are always crocodiles to blame. Either way, Diamond finds herself digging around in both disappearances when the terms of Todd's will become well known and higher-ups in the Police get a bit nervous about the PR implications.
An interesting idea for a cold case investigation then, unfortunately not best served by the structure of the novel overall. The author here has a lot of worthwhile stuff to say about stereotypes of Indigenous Australians, on environmental issues, heavy-handed policing and a bunch of other social issues. The problem is that many chapters in the novel come across as mini-lectures on individual subjects, or are so heavily infested with foreshadowing that it's difficult to stay with it too frequently. There's also too many times when the side-alleys of lecture and points to be made simply overwhelm advancement of the plot and it's hard to come away from MISSING PIECES without wondering if there was a lot more novel here than actual story.
There's plenty of potential in Cass Diamond as a central character, so having really liked this idea of the intersecting cold cases as a plot device, here's hoping the third outing in this series achieves a better balance.