I know it will sound weird that a book about missing children seemed like a comfort read, but that’s very much what I was hoping for as I opened this book after a long weekend away.
I’d not done any reading for days, was tired from a long drive and was feeling a bit stressed about a few things.
Rene Denfeld’s The Child Finder was actually not next in my
anally chronologically sorted to-be-read pile, but it was shorter than its nearest competitor and seemed like the kind of book that is my usual reading bread and butter.
by Rene Denfeld
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
on September 12th 2017
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as "the Child Finder," Naomi is their last hope.
Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too.
As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?
I did wonder initially if this was the second in a series. It’s Denfeld’s second book but the blurb about the first seems to indicate it was quite different.
I guess it’s because we enter part-way through Naomi’s story. It’s three years after Madison’s disappearance and Naomi is coming upon her case afresh, meeting her parents for the first time. Interestingly Naomi (apparently) always refers to the parents / clients as ‘the mother’ and ‘the father’ when talking about them, never using their names. She says later (p 180) it’s to honour them, but her foster brother – who knows her better than most (perhaps anyone) – suggests it allows her to keep her distance.
We do however, quickly learn that Naomi’s obsession with her work comes from her own experiences as a child. It drives her and Denfeld catches us up on Naomi’s early life… or at least how it starts in her memory. It’s obvious her quest to find missing children is akin (therapeutically) to her finding answers about her own past.
She has the sense that there’s something on the edge of her memory that she just can’t reach. And she’s not sure why.
This may / may not be a bit of a spoiler but Naomi does recover a memory she thought long lost. And I enjoyed the way in which Denfeld challenges her character and allows the break-through to happen.
I did wonder if we’ll meet Naomi in future books or if Denfeld’s purposely left Naomi’s story with just the essence of answers because she was loath to tie everything up too neatly.
Naomi’s own story aside, there is – of course – the case at hand and the ‘child-finder’ finds herself dealing with some interesting locals in her hunt for Madison… who she believes to still be alive.
I wondered (from the backcover blurb) if Naomi was going to have some superpower or sixth sense or something… but it’s really just that she’s dogged and is able to bury herself in the location of the disappearance and dig relentlessly until she has answers. Denfeld also explains that Naomi became a private investigator and has taken every opportunity she can to be trained in forensics and self-defence and the like, and the pragmatic part of me liked the practicality / feasibility of that (ie. she’s human).
I can’t say too much without giving away some of the plot but we’re also privy to the story of the ‘snow girl’ and the way in which she grows, learns and copes with the metaphorical hand she’s been dealt.
I really enjoyed this novel and appreciated that Denfeld avoided stereotypes and the whole good / bad extremism. There’s an insightful and sympathetic approach to the stories of those in this book that readers will find bittersweet.
Madison didn’t understand that people can be good and bad. Not like little-mistakes bad. Like big-mistakes bad. Like go-to-jail bad.
She didn’t know that when you have that kind of bad inside you, it is not like your goodness is hiding it. It is more like the badness and the goodness are all mixed together.
Madison didn’t know you can love someone who is bad. p 164
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld will be published in Australia by Hachette and available from 12 September 2017.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.