Pinpoint sharp and humorous is what a reader has come to expect of Isla Dewar’s writing, and so the tradition continues with her latest release, It Takes One To Know One. Charlie Gavin, the main protagonist and owner of the Be Kindly Missing Persons Bureau, was abducted as a baby. His assistant, failed rock musician Martha Walters, fell pregnant at a young age only to have her husband up-sticks with no explanation, leaving her to raise their daughter, Evie, alone.
Dewar’s characters are wonderfully flawed and unconventional in nature. Her trademark wit finds lightness even when Charlie and Martha are probing the difficult lives of missing persons, some of whom have no desire to be found. In the end, whether or not Charlie and Martha reunite each family with those they hold dear is less important than the question – will they, in the process, find themselves?
It is Dewar’s attention to seemingly inconsequential detail that makes her writing sing. When Charlie is searching his Aunt Ella’s home after her death, he finds that the “cupboards only contained ancient utensils – a potato peeler, a couple of knives, old pots with shaky handles”. Her skill at focusing on everyday routine adds a warmth and certainty, which harks back to less stressful times, pre-social media and the internet age, before a missing loved one might be located using a tracking device on their mobile phone.
And this is where ambiguity arises. The striking cover image, of a young woman dressed in red, riding a bicycle along a seafront, has a definite contemporary feel. There is no mention made in the back cover blurb as to when the novel is set. At first, Charlie Gavin appears a tad eccentric, a lover of all things retro, until a few pages in it becomes clear that the setting is Portobello, between the 1960s and 70s. The dialogue sounds modern though, meaning that when 60s references are made at times they can jar.
Additionally, there is lots of travelling involved as Charlie and Martha visit relatives and acquaintances of the missing persons, searching for clues. The reader is introduced to a wide ensemble of characters, which at times becomes confusing. Too many character names begin with the letter B – Brenda, Brendan, Bernice.
That said, Dewar’s skill in drawing the reader into her world makes it easy to root for team Charlie and Martha. The novel’s gentle storyline, with caring at its core, fits naturally within the current trend towards up-lit fiction. Lovers of bestselling feel-good titles such as The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan or Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon will enjoy its cosy feel. With Dewar in charge, the reader is in safe hands, certain that in the end all will be well.