Author: Rene Denfeld
Pub Date: Sept. 2017 (read Mar. 2018)
I tore through this short mystery novel in 2 days. The Child Finder tells the story of Naomi, a private investigator who specializes in lost children and has gained a reputation as the ‘Child Finder’. She’s been hired by a couple in Oregon whose daughter disappeared 3 years ago into a snowy forest and was never found. Naomi grew up in Oregon and the return to the woods reminds her of her own upbringing with her foster mom and foster brother, as well as the dark past she has blocked from her memory. As she searches for Madison and her foster mom’s health declines, she must face her own past and relationships in order to ever be whole.
Setting and atmosphere are key in this novel and I loved them both. The story takes place deep in Oregon’s wilderness and in a land of perpetual winter. Denfeld integrates fairy tales into the story and I thought they worked so well against the backdrop of the snowy forest. Everything is so secluded within the park that you feel transported back in time to when trappers still ran the land and lived in their log cabins in the woods, living off the land. Naomi is very much an island herself and the setting mirrored her struggle to build relationships and set down roots. She is always on the move from one missing child case to the next, always running from her past.
I liked this as both a mystery novel and a character study. I really liked Naomi and I’d be interested in reading a sequel to see her deal with her own ghosts and guilt. She was complex, yet simple. I was impressed with how well the author crafted her character in such a short book. I love when characters are so well crafted that they take on a life of their own and you can almost anticipate how they will react because you feel you’ve come to know them so well. I felt this way about Naomi and as much as I wanted her to settle down, I understood why she always had to keep moving.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about the plot. It’s a pretty simple story overall and it felt more about Naomi’s growth than the actual mystery. I liked that the author included two missing children cases, as well as snippets of Naomi’s back story, because it added a bit more intrigue to the book. I quite liked the writing. It was simple but it also had this dreamy quality to it which I thought flowed well throughout the story and is what really helped to create the atmosphere.
Disclaimer, this book does have some disturbing content, but I thought it was actually handled really well by the author. Some books are needlessly gratuitous about physical and sexual violence, and while this book has both, I thought it was well written. It offers some interesting insight into the cycle of abuse and how isolation and never knowing love can impact children and the people they grow up to be.