Veerle is living a stultifying life, smothered by her over-protective mother. Her mum is scared of her own shadow and demands to know where Veerle is all of the time. Her anxiety colours their whole existence and imprisons them in their shuttered and bolted home. Veerle is about to explode. Her avenues of escape are few, and when the climbing wall becomes out of bounds to her she is desperate for something, anything, else. It is either break free or break. The merest flicker of light glimpsed coming from inside an abandoned castle is enough to pique Veerle's curiosity. What she discovers inside changes her life completely.
She discovers a secret organisation devoted to finding and utilising empty buildings, whether permanently abandoned like the old castle or left unattended while the owners are on holiday. Members of the society spend time in the buildings, and in return for the use of the space do little odd jobs around the place as a way of saying thank you to the place. This doesn't make it any less illegal, buts salves the conscience of the participants. It is just the buzz Veerle is looking for; it's dangerous and exciting. Although, just how dangerous is quickly revealed as people start disappearing. Someone is picking off the members of the club, and Veerle has caught a glimpse of who.
The secret society links Veerle's past and present. A childhood friend is restored to her, but with him comes a long-buried memory. A terrible crime long ago and a remorseless killer long dead were also glimpsed by Veerle then. How is it possible that history is replaying itself? Veerle and Kris are determined to find the truth, but have a difficult time finding answers due to the clandestine nature of the club. They cannot go directly to the authorities without stirring up a whole heap of trouble for many people, but there is a very limited number of people who can help them. By taking matters into their hands they risk their own lives, directing the Hunter straight to them.
Veerle and Kris are a great team, what connected them as kids is even stronger after so many years apart. The attraction between them grows quickly and adds an extra emotional involvement. I like the tension between their actions and them as individuals. So, obviously breaking into places is wrong but I didn't want them to get caught, and they are in effect the heroes of the piece. I did get a bit hung up on the types of buildings considered empty. For example, abandoned and crumbling castles seem fairly harmless targets, especially when little tasks to improve the place are carried out. But, the homes of the rich and famous are something quite different. Kris is trying to impress Veerle by taking her to fancy places with swimming pools and wine cellars while the owners are on holiday. To me these do not qualify as empty buildings, and justifying it by saying the residents are rich seems very empty morality.
That actually leads me to something else I really like about the book - Veerle and Kris are not straightforward characters. Veerle routinely lies to her mum, to protect her from a more worrying truth, they know what they are doing is wrong but don't stop, and their plans to catch a killer are naive at best. They are pretty ordinary young people facing an extraordinary situation. I like the ambiguity and opportunity to think through moral conundrums for myself.
I was very fortunate to receive a copy for review from the publisher. The Hardback is published on 4 April 2013, and is a very handsome thing, which the photograph at the top of my review does not do full justice!