Mike Bergen is a married man from Barnstaple, where he happily lives with his wife and son. The story opens in Gaffney, where Mike is attending a work-related conference. Gaffney, however, is also the place where a terrible occurrence took the life of his best friend almost thirty years ago. Desperate to lay to rest the past which has been haunting him into his adult life, Mike returns to the place where Geoff Oram – his childhood buddy – was sadly taken from him all those years ago.
What makes What Gets Left Behind so compelling is the era in which it is set. The 80s are referenced here to marvellous effect, with nods to Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and even Noel Edmonds. It was a time when children actually went outside to play, an epoch of innocence and grazed kneecaps, and West does a fantastic job of setting the scene. The comparisons between West’s Rainy Day Abductor and The Yorkshire Ripper – who was prevalent at the time – only serve to make the setting feel more appropriate.
The way in which the author tells the story – with two chapters dedicated to the traumatic childhood occurrence before returning to the present – works remarkably well, splitting the book into two equally fascinating halves. Mike has a motive, a clear reason for doing what he’s doing; it helps us understand why he can’t just leave things alone and return to his family, which would have otherwise been the sensible option. It is Mike’s inability to simply abandon the idea that will have you rooting for him all the more.
As the story progresses, with Mike finally making it back to the industrial unit where Geoff Oram tragically died, the tension is raised emphatically and the subsequent denouement is truly chilling.
What West manages to do in so few pages, some authors don’t achieve in an entire novel. What Gets Left Behind is a spine-tingling tale that will play on your mind for some time after you’ve put it down. A laconic gem.