by Lucy Lyons
Alex Martin’s life seems to have stagnated as she approaches thirty with little prospect of things changing anytime soon. However, change they do when her Mum sends her a baffling machine that her late father invented.
With the help of housemate, Antony, Alex begins to discover the true purpose of the strange gadget; it finds things. Anything. As the gravity of the machine’s potential becomes startlingly obvious, Alex knows she must use it to reveal the mystery behind a little girl’s disappearance but, should some truths stay hidden?...
The Finding Machine is an interesting novel whose seemingly light-hearted, pacey narrative disguises a complex, thought-provoking, and cleverly constructed premise. Further, the novel moves effectively between several genres including family drama, romance, science fiction, and thriller, with a whisper of the occult.
The story is narrated in first-person by Alex who displays the right amount of late-twenties growing self-awareness, curiosity, and confusion. She is also amusing with a nice line in whip-smart retorts, often to herself, addressing perceived failings.
Occasionally, she can be a little prickly and frustrating, especially in relation to her Mum, Brigid. However, as the plot unfolds, Brigid’s controlling single-mindedness becomes faintly sinister and Alex’s exasperation is more than justified.
Antony is neatly depicted and the dynamic between him and Alex evolves with sweet satisfaction. The novel is set in 1998 and this era is, to a certain extent, integral to the narrative. The plot would not work as credibly in a present-day setting with the advances in technology.
There are enough resources available in the late 90s that Alex is able to get to grips with the machine but not so many that it blows the concept out of the water. She nicely nuances the era and it’s refreshing to read of a fairly contemporary time without constant reference to smartphones.
Part of the appeal of the machine are the hiccups, delays, and difficulties that Alex faces while trying to ascertain exactly what it can do and how it does it, which I will not spoil by revealing. Suffice to say, like all good ideas, it’s relatively simple but one that is deceptively well thought-out.
Lyons gives three tangents involving Sebastian the cat, an illegal puppy farm, and a missing teenager, Jason Bevin, as Alex begins to successfully work the finding machine before the main plot and purpose kick in.
Personally, not all three were required, but it does ensure the book and the mechanics of the finding machine itself become involving and, consequently quite objective. A reader cannot help but think of the possibilities of the machine in their own life.
It’s genuinely a plausible idea, and that is one of the strengths of The Finding Machine; it’s not far-fetched. Whilst the 90s setting complements the story, conversely reading it in 2023 adds a layer of complete believability.
As the narrative funnels into the Martin family mystery, the novel is really quite gripping. Lyons’ writing is confident, breezy, and infectious to read with Alex making for a good amateur sleuth. The plotline is considered, gently puzzling, twisting, and turning with Lyons nicely evoking the late 1920s when the action flashes back to that age.
The Finding Machine is an intriguing, entertaining, and unusual novel that is difficult to put down. Well worth a look.