Minette Walters sets the stage for this mystery by inserting pertinent information, the (unsolved) mysterious disappearance of two men years earlier: James Streeter, employed by a financial institution, suspected of bilking the company of substantial funds, and Peter Fenton, a career diplomat for the Foreign Office who vanished without a trace.
Bearing these two disappearances in mind, everything that happens in The Echo somehow relates to one or the other missing person and the tragedy that inextricably unites their lives. When a homeless man dies of starvation in the garage of Amanda Powell, a resident of an exclusive private estate bordering the Thames in London’s old docklands, the dead man’s identity is critical.
Unfortunately, the man proves to be an enigma, a squatter in a warehouse not far from Powell’s home. “Billy Blake,” as the deceased was known to his mates, has no identifiable fingerprints and a history of self-abuse and drunken rants. A devotee of William Blake, Billy was given to introspection while in his cups, obsessing on truth, guilt and personal responsibility.
Enter Michael Deacon, a reporter for The Street who is assigned Billy’s story. Visiting Amanda Powell, Deacon is both attracted and repulsed by the ice-blue-eyed beauty, curious why a homeless man would choose her garage for his final hours, especially when Amanda implores the reporter to find out any information about the dead man.
At the nearby squat, Michael learns about Billy’s recent troubled past from fourteen-year-old Terry Dalton, a runaway fond of the old man and quite willing to share his story with Deacon. When police investigators descend upon the warehouse, Deacon is unwilling to hand the boy over to the authorities, offering a bed for a couple of days, at least until after the Christmas holiday.
Never one to turn down a good thing, Terry settles in, unconcerned when yet another lost soul from The Street crashes at Deacon’s apartment. Add to this strange brew of eccentrics an elderly, ailing Jewish lawyer, and Michael’s Christmas gathering takes on a life of its own.
With the help of his two houseguests, Deacon uncovers enough information about the unfortunate Billy to make him suspicious of Amanda’s motives and her identity, viewing the woman’s request from quite another perspective as events unfold. It doesn’t help Deacon that Amanda is attractive - or that she reminds him of his mother.
In sharp relief to Amanda Powell’s frigid demeanor, hostility and ambiguous intentions, the engaging, colorful characters who have become temporary fixtures in Deacon’s life are all the more attractive. For all her elegance, Powell sends mixed messages, perhaps by intention, a woman with her mind more on the past than the present.
Eventually, Billy’s sad demise reveals the hidden threads of a complicated tale of murder and mayhem, London street life in sharp contrast with the luxury of entitlement Amanda enjoys. Old demons exorcised and missing persons accounted for, Walters fails to sustain my interest in this novel; however, her characters, as usual, crackle with authenticity.