How to Disappear – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐

Author: Gillian McAllister
Genre: Thriller
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Murder and violence.


After 14-year-old Zara witnesses a horrific crime, her life is turned upside down and her family is torn apart. In the aftermath of the crime, Zara and her mother, Lauren enter into witness protection and are forced to leave behind everything they love and everything they know.

What I liked

  • The premise

What I disliked

  • Predictable plot
  • Flat and undeveloped characters
  • Repetitiveness

Plot and Structure

As the synopsis suggests, the plot is primarily revolved around the initial crime witnessed by Zara and the family’s experience of witness protection as a consequence. There are some details relating to the crime which are witheld initially, but generally there was very little mystery around the crime and the focus was much more on the characters and their experiences. There are four POV characters – Zara, Lauren (Zara’s mother), Aidan (Zara’s step-father) and Poppy (Zara’s step-sister) and it alternates between their perspectives throughout. Each character is affected by the crime in a different way and have different reactions to the huge changes in their lives.

Generally, the plot was basic. The crime itself was revealed so early that I wasn’t invested in it and the motive for the crime felt silly and contrived. Considering it’s a thriller novel, I expected more intruige and mystery. The build-up was good in parts, but unfortunately, the end result was anti-climatic. There were a couple of twists towards the end, but they were underwhelming and lacked impact. Also, the limitations of writing about such a secretive topic as witness protection (an issue the author herself admits in the afterword) restricted where the story could go and required me to suspend disbelief on multiple ocassions. However, I do think some of the issues I had with the plot stemmed from the fact that I thought I was getting a crime thriller and it was more of a family crime drama.

Writing Style

The writing was okay – clean, simple and effective. It served its purpose and made for an easy read. Personally, I prefer a more distinctive writing style with complex prose and language, but I appreciate that for this type of book that writing style doesn’t necessarily fit. One aspect of the writing which particularly frustrated me was the endless repetition of phrases and character traits.

Characters and Relationships

Well-written and developed characters are my jam when it comes to books, but unfortunately, the characters fell completely flat for me. I believe this was partly what contributed to my lack of investment in the story. There was so much emphasis on the characters, but none of them were fleshed out enough to feel any attachment to them. The main characters had a handful of characteristics that defined them and they were repeated over and over. I know that Lauren loves baths, Zara is a social justice warrior, Poppy is a young carer and Aidan is an IT tech. Outside of that, I don’t know anything about these characters or have any sense of who they’re supposed to be. The character development was also inconsistent and sloppy. In the last third of the book Zara seemed to get a personality transplant and the only defining characteristics she had were completely dropped. It felt to me like the author was trying to write a character-centric story, but the characters weren’t up to the standard they needed to be to be able to pull that off. This also probably explains why I pinned all of my hopes on the plot – because I wanted it to make up for the characters!

On the other hand, I appreciated the focus on family in this story and the portrayal of the parent/child relationship. At its core, I believe this is a story of family and sacrifice. It did showcase the bonds between the family and the impact that their separation had on them emotionally and practically. In that regard, it achieved what it set out to do. Admittedly, the undeveloped characters did hinder the development of the relationships too, but I preferred the character dynamics over the individual character writing.

Concluding thoughts

How to Disappear was unfortunately just not the book for me based on personal preference. I’m generally not a big reader of crime thrillers and this book reminded me why that is. Despite being readable and exploring the intruiging and mysterious witness protection system in the UK, it lacked depth and I was unable to connect with it on any level. Although the premise was promising and the plot had interesting aspects, it was held back by the undeveloped and one-dimensional characters. Nonetheless, I did find it to be an easy and mildly entertaining read.

I’d recommend How to Disappear if:

You’re a fan of thriller novels and are looking for a family focused crime-drama.

Have you read How to Disappear? What did you think? If not, are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

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