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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.

A SERPENT’S TOOTH by Craig Johnson: Book Review

It’s always a delight for me when I check Craig Johnson’s web site and find that he’s written a new Walt Longmire mystery.  His latest one, A Serpent’s Tooth, is a wonderful addition to the series.

Walt is the sheriff of rural Absaroka County, Wyoming.  Attending the funeral of one of its citizens, Walt gets into a conversation with Barbara Thomas.  The subject is angels, and Barbara tells Walt how angels have been coming to her house and doing all the minor repairs and clean-ups that make home owning difficult for a widow of advancing years.  They have cleaned her gutters, fixed the door on her porch, and various other small jobs.   They don’t ask for money, but Barbara leaves a list of jobs for them and a plate of food, and pretty soon the repair is done and the food is gone.

Naturally, Walt doesn’t believe in home-repair angels, and when he and his deputy Victoria Moretti drive out to Barbara’s home they find a teenage boy repairing the trap under the kitchen sink.  When the boy hears Walt’s greeting, he bolts from the house and Walt and Vic are unable to catch him.  Walt tries to follow up with the local high school and social services department, but no one has heard of this boy.

When Walt and Vic return to search the outbuildings around Barbara’s house, they find evidence of someone living in the small dilapidated pump house–a cot, a blanket, and an 1889 copy of the Book of Mormon.  And when Walt finally catches up with the boy, whose name is Cord, he finds him to be half-starved and nearly totally unaware of many of the aspects of modern living.

Thus begins the sheriff’s involvement with the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God, a rogue offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Several branches of this church have been established in the rural west, and one has set down roots in the mountains of Walt’s county.  The boy is a runaway from this group.  Apparently his mother was looking for him a few weeks earlier in South Dakota, but when that county’s sheriff went to the address she had given him to tell her her son was found, no one there would admit knowing the mother or the son.  And the South Dakota group is the same Apostolic Church that is in Walt’s county.

In addition to Cord, another mysterious stranger has appeared in town, the self-proclaimed Orrin Porter Rockwell, Danite, Man of God, Son of Thunder.  The only problem is that the real Orrin Porter Rockwell was born in 1813.  The 21st-century Orrin proclaims himself Cord’s bodyguard, and the two of them together are almost too much for the law in Absaroka County.

Walt Longmire is a fabulous character, a lawman who tempers justice with mercy and understanding.  He is a widower, and his romantic relationship with his deputy Vic, given the difference in their ages and backgrounds, is a problem for him but not for her.  His relationship with his only child, Cady, who is married to Vic’s brother, is also difficult, and the upcoming birth of Cady’s first child is filling Walt with both joy and trepidation.

Craig Johnson is a terrific writer who knows how to make all of his characters alive.  You can read more about him at his web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

CORRUPT PRACTICES by Robert Rotstein: Book Review

Can you imagine being a lawyer who cannot speak in court?  Such is the case for former big-time attorney Parker Stern who suffers from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.  In Parker’s case this fear shows itself only in court, but that has been enough to virtually end his career.

When Parker’s former law firm dissolved following the suicide of its founder, Harmon Cherry, the firm’s attorneys went their different ways.  Palmer now is a sole practitioner with no clients, Deanna Poulos owns a coffee shop, Rich Baxter continues as an attorney with a large firm, Grace Trimble has disappeared, and Manny Mason is a law professor.  It is Manny who has gotten Palmer his new job as an adjunct professor at St. Thomas More School of Law, teaching trial advocacy to three third-year law students.

Deanna comes to Parker to request that he talk to his former colleague and friend, Rich Baxter, who has been arrested on charges of illegal money transactions and embezzlement from his biggest client, the Church of the Sanctified Assembly.  The government alleges Rich stole seventeen million dollars, had it transferred out of the country, and was planning to leave the United States with a false passport found in his home.  Rich, through Deanna, begs Parker to take his case, swearing that he’s innocent of all the charges.  He also tells Parker that although Harmon’s death has been ruled a suicide, he knows it was murder.

Parker has his own sad history with the Assembly.  He was famous as Parky Gerald, a child movie star, pushed into a show business career by his mother.  Although there are laws protecting the earnings of minors, Parker’s mother managed to take nearly all of his earnings and give them to the Assembly.  When Parker was fifteen he sued to be an emancipated minor, and he hasn’t seen his mother in more than twenty years.

After meeting with Rich in jail Parker agrees to take the case, at least on a preliminary basis.  But when he arrives at court, his client is nowhere to be seen.  As the judge asks where the defendant is, a marshal comes into the courtroom, whispers to the judge, and the judge orders all attorneys into his office.  The news the marshal brings is that Rich Baxter has been found in his cell, a suicide.  So of the six partners of Macklin and Cherry, two have allegedly committed suicide.  Parker isn’t buying it.

Robert Rotstein is himself an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, and he knows the milieu well.  Parker Stern is a fascinating protagonist, reluctant at first to get back into the courtroom because of his disability.  But his loyalty to the remaining members of his former firm finally outweighs his fears.  The book’s other characters are equally interesting:  the bohemian Deanna, Parker’s former lover; his beautiful and bright law student, Lovely Diamond; the mysterious Grace Trimble, whom Parker hasn’t seen in years; and the members of the Assembly, where Parker is known as the First Apostate.

Corrupt Practices is a book that’s nearly impossible to put down.  There’s action on every page, and the insights into people’s characters are deep and well thought-out.  According to his web site, Robert Rotstein is at work on the second Parker Stern novel, and I’m looking forward to reading it when it’s published.

You can read more about Robert Rotstein at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.