THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White: Book Review

Coming from two countries relatively new to the genre, Australian and Icelandic authors have been very busy over the past few years writing excellent mysteries.  The Nowhere Child by Christian White is the latest from Down Under, and it is a spellbinding novel with a unique plot.

Kimberly Leamy is sitting in the cafeteria of a school in Melbourne, where she teaches photography, when a man comes up to her and introduces himself as James Finn.  He shows her a photo of a young child and asks Kim if she knows her.  She responds that she doesn’t, and James tells her the girl is Sammy Went, who disappeared from her home in Manson, Kentucky when she was two years old.

Trying to be polite, Kim starts to direct him to the woman who teaches Crimes and Justice Studies at the school, but James isn’t interested.  “I believe you’re…connected to all this,” he tells Kim, continuing to say that the toddler disappeared twenty-eight years ago.  “I think you are Sammy Went.”

To use Australian slang, Kim is “like a stunned mullet” (courtesy of “The Aussie English” podcast).  Upon returning home that evening she searches the Internet for anything related to Sammy Went.  Sure enough, she immediately finds an article from 1990 about the search for the missing girl that features a quote from Manson Sheriff Chester Ellis.  “We have faith we’re going to find Sammy and bring her home,” the article read, but it’s obvious that that never happened.

As Kim continues looking for more information on the net, she sees a photo in another article and notes the strong resemblance between herself and the girl’s parents.  When another meeting with the man calling himself James Finn reveals that he is actually Stuart Went, Sammy’s older brother, Kim starts to believe that the unbelievable just might be possible.

The Nowhere Child switches in time and narration from the day Sammy was kidnapped, which is told in the third person, to the present day told in Kim’s voice.  We see the dynamics of Sammy’s dysfunctional family then and now and learn the story of how the child arrived in Australia and came to be adopted by Carol Leamy, the woman Kim always thought of as her biological mother.

Carol died several years before the novel opens, so now Kim’s family consists only of her younger sister Amy and her stepfather Dean.  Amy knows nothing about this, but Dean, when confronted by Kim, is forced to face the issue.  “She made me promise, Kimmy.  She wanted the secret to die with her,” Dean tells her.

No longer in doubt about her past, Kim makes the decision to fly to Manson with Stuart and find out exactly what happened on the day she disappeared.

Christian White’s debut novel won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and it is easy to understand why.  The Nowhere Child is a thrilling story of a dysfunctional family and the secrets kept for decades that span two continents.

You can read more about Christian White at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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