How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister

I’ve read three books by Gillian McAllister and enjoyed each one so I was delighted when I saw that she has a new book, How To Disappear published today. But, I have mixed feelings about this book, because although it is so tense in parts and is compulsive reading – I really wanted to know what happens next – I did have difficulty in suspending my disbelief for a large part of it. I liked the originality of the story – a murder mystery that is not a police procedural or an amateur detective story, but the story of a family devastated by their experience of being in witness protection. Although I’ve seen TV dramas about witness protection I’ve never read a novel before about it.


What do you do when you can’t run, and you can’t hide?

Lauren’s daughter Zara witnessed a terrible crime. But speaking up comes with a price, and when Zara’s identity is revealed online, it puts a target on her back. The only choice is to disappear. To keep Zara safe Lauren will give up everything and everyone she loves, even her husband. There will be no goodbyes. Their pasts will be rewritten. New names, new home, new lives. The rules are strict for a reason. They are being hunted. One mistake – a text, an Instagram like – could bring their old lives crashing into the new. They can never assume someone isn’t watching, waiting.

As Lauren will learn, disappearing is easy. Staying hidden is harder…

I thought it began well, although, it’s written in the present tense, often a stumbling block for me, setting the scene and establishing the characters. Zara is fourteen when she witnesses the murder of a homeless man by two teenagers. A year later she gives evidence as Girl A, to protect her identity, at the trial of two teenage footballers. But it all goes wrong, the boys are freed and after the trial a search is on to discover her identity and make her pay for what she did. As the situation escalates she is forced to go into witness protection.

This is a dark, intense story about what happened next, and going into more detail about what led up to the murder. It’s told from the four main characters’ viewpoints – Zara, Lauren her mother, Aidan her stepfather and his daughter Ruby. It moves along at quite a good pace, although sometimes I thought it was a bit repetitive about long hot baths or lack of a long hot bath, comfort eating cakes, and compulsive shopping.

The main themes of the book are about witness protection, parenting and family relationships. Gillian McAllister explains in her Author’s Note that there are many blanks she was unable to fill in, ‘due to the UK’s protection service not wishing to reveal their secrets’ to her. She hopes it is ‘believable despite basically having … made it up.’ I found it believable up to a point, but it was the characters’ behaviour that I found so far-fetched. However, it certainly made me wonder how I would cope in witness protection, faced with being unable to contact the family I’d left behind in anyway for fear of the consequences. But, most of all, I didn’t enjoy reading it, and for me that is important when I’m reading a novel. It left me drained – and the ending felt so contrived that it really spoiled the whole book for me.

This was not an easy book for me to review, especially as I was expecting to enjoy it as much as her earlier books!

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1560 KB
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (9 July 2020)
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 2

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin for my review copy via NetGalley.

10 thoughts on “How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister

  1. I’m sorry to hear this one didn’t live up to your expectations, Margaret. The premise sounds so interesting (there aren’t that many novels about witness protection programs), and I know what you mean about wanting to find out what happens next. Still, if the story doesn’t have you ‘buying into’ it, it doesn’t. Thanks for your candor.

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  2. It’s so hard when we expect to really enjoy a book based on the author’s previous works and then it just doesn’t suit us at all. I’ve had that happen before. I’ve read other books by this author as well and liked them. Also, the storyline of witness protection is quite interesting. However, we’ll see if I decide to try it. Don’t know if it’s being published over here or if we’ll have to wait. I’ll check that out. Thanks for sharing, Margaret!

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  3. I can understand that this was a difficult review to write, Margaret. And a disappointment for you. Such a pity since the premise sounds so full of possibilities.

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  4. It’s always extra hard when you don’t like a book from an author you’ve previously enjoyed. Hopefully she’ll return to form with her next one.


  5. I read your review Margaret and I am in agreement with you. I think the story had lots of potential, but somehow missed it. I was getting a bit irritated with the constant mentioning of Lauren’s baths and shopping, hammering home her character? The end seemed to arrive and wrap everything up really quickly and like you, left me wondering what happened next then? Compulsive reading though.


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