Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (2017)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/21/2017

Release date:  September 5, 2017

Blurb:

A haunting, richly atmospheric, and deeply suspenseful novel from the acclaimed author of The Enchanted about an investigator who must use her unique insights to find a missing little girl.

“Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?”

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 by 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.

My Review:

This is a very intimate crime thriller, the kind that remains small and very personal, exploring tragedy from the perspective of a few people. When I read the blurb, I liked the idea of an expert in finding children. I expected a little more mojo hand-waving, psychic impressions, mental links, etc. But that wasn’t the case. The book is realistic in every way.

Naomi is an independent criminal investigator who specializes in missing children cases. She was a lost child herself, found wandering out of the woods by a group of migrants, with no memories of the horrible time before. After being rescued, Naomi spent the rest of her childhood being raised by a wonderful foster mother along with another child, a boy, who was abandoned. Now a woman, Naomi is damaged goods. She has intimacy issues, trust issues, and is driven to spend all her time tracking down missing children with neither money nor her personal comfort being particularly important to her.

In performing her job, Naomi doesn’t “sense” the missing child or anything of that nature. Her process comes down to hours of dogged work, tracking down the records of anyone involved in the case and the locals in the area, searching the woods, etc. She basically suspects everyone and has little regard for things like private property or manners. She understands the sorts of places where children can be hidden and the signs that they’re there. She never gives up, driven by an understanding of what it means to be lost, to be forgotten and given up on.

There are two missing children in this book. In the main case, a five-year-old girl, Madison, becomes lost in the woods of the Skookum National Forest in Oregon while the family is out looking for a Christmas tree. A lot of the book is spent searching this area, which the author paints as a super remote place, always cold and wet, dense trees, tons of snow, fog and mist, with mountain men still living in isolated cabins and trapping for fur. Whether or not that’s actually true in this day and age, I don’t know, but it was a creepy setting all the same, very Grimms Brothers. That tone is echoed in the fairy tales Madison makes up in her own mind to comfort herself. Early on in the book, we get Madison’s POV and see that she’s alive and captive. So the tension is really about if and how Naomi will find her.

The second missing child case in the book is an infant who went missing, the baby of a young black woman with autism. This is a minor subplot, yet it’s rather horrible and lends strong emotion to the book.

Besides the case work, we get to know Naomi. She still struggles with remembering what happened to her before her rescue. She has to decide if she’s going to continue to live her life on the road, alone, always running, or if she is healed enough to accept the love of a good man who wants to be with her.

The plot moves quickly and I finished the book in a day, not wanting to put it down. The writing is very good, with darkly poetic descriptions that bring the emotions of the story to life in a visceral way.

Naomi could smell it. It was the smell of fear and longing and the place on the other side. It was a smell that said mud and dirt and the saddest cry of all: Mother.

and

This is how fear feels. When you have been gutted from the inside out and lost everyone and you are trying to replace your insides. When someone coul djust come and place their hand there, feeling your wetness, and you hope the hand is safe.

One thing I particularly appreciated about the book is that it isn’t just angsty. There’s a beauty in it, the struggle for survival, an ultimate love of life, a treatise on inner strength and forgiveness. Even the extensive descriptions of the forest were lyrical.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes thrillers and crime stories.

Book Links:

Goodreads

Amazon (available for pre-order)

 

 

 

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