Rift by Beverley Birch and read by Clare Corbett (April 2008, Whole Story Audio Books, ISBN: 9781407422725)
First Lines: Ella turned her head, listened. Only the faint tick of her wristwatch in the heavy silence, and the boy's quiet presence. Darkness, thick and hot.
Notes: Rift was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2008.
Review: Rift is set in an unnamed African country and four children and an adult have gone missing near Chomlaya Rocks. All are British except for one local boy and all are connected to a student camp at the base of the rocks. The children are there to learn and help out with some construction and the adult is Charlotte (Charly) Tanner a journalist who is doing a feature on their experience. Two days after the disappearance from the camp, one of the boys, Joe, is found but he has no memory of recent events. When Charly's sister, fourteen-year-old Ella, flies out to join the hunt for her sister she is taken to Joe's room in the hospital. Ella and Joe are then taken under the wing of the newly promoted, kindly Inspector Murothi and they accompany him back to Chomlaya. The pressure is on Murothi as the extreme heat and scarcity of water means the missing people cannot survive for long and the case is very high profile. All possible searches, by air and foot are being undertaken by a country which can ill-afford the expense.
Murothi meets the camp leader - the detestable Miss Strutton - as well as some of the other teachers and students and he is soon convinced that the answer to the disappearances lies within the camp, not outside.
Methodically, the story of the disappearances is pieced together, through new interviews and old interview transcripts, through old emails from Charly to Ella, from student journals and finally flash-backs from Joe as his memory slowly returns. The ending is stunning and not at all what my criminal mind was expecting.
I loved, loved, loved this one. I wanted to just listen to all six cds at once but I made myself eke out the pleasure over several days. I only came across it because my library (where I work) has just bought it and I picked it up, read the blurb and was intrigued. The complete disappearance of the four people is a mystery that completely holds the attention - where can they be and what has happened to them? The sense of place is amazing. I could picture the camp, the rocks really clearly and feel the heat. Ella is a likeable and strong character who holds up well under the circumstances. I would love to see Inspector Murothi return in another novel, teenage or adult. I loved his character: a gentle, wise policeman with great empathy for Ella and Joe.
Rift explores the group dynamics that occur when a a mixed group is taken away from their normal environment and the leader does not behave as one would like them to. By the end of the story, changes have occurred and at least one 'rift' has begun to heal.
Clare Corbett narrates Rift exquisitely. Her children sound like children and her men sound as if a man has taken over the narration. She separates the many students by giving them regional accents and provides completely believable French and African accents, where appropriate, for the non-British adults. It's all done brilliantly well and I can't recommend this audio book highly enough.
(A sample can be listened to on the Whole Story website.)