The Child Finder
Rene Denfeld
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The Child Finder
Rene Denfeld
288 pages
September 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Denfield tackles the territory of the lost, the generational damage of childhood abuse as found in the most tragic of circumstances. Drawing on her own experience of sexual predation, private investigator Naomi can understand both victim and victimizer, increasing the chances of success. Naomi considers not only the child but the circumstances by which they are taken and the emotional complexity of a person she might face at the end of a quest. It is a challenging job but one Naomi feels called to do: she was also a found child, fortunately taken in by a kind woman who offered a home to lost children.

Approaching the case of five-year-old Madison Culver, who has been missing for three years, Naomi approaches the parents truthfully, preparing them for the possibility that Madison may be found or may be gone. She doesn’t hold out false hope but does everything possible to recover the child. The person keeping Madison may also play a part in the search, another element in her plan. (Denfeld shares: “It is the gift of my history that I can understand these people… I can see their humanity… the harm they have done to others… the harm done to them.”) So when Naomi approaches the last place the parents saw their daughter, the remote territory of the Pacific Northwest, she is already familiar with the scene of her own childhood experience. As she begins her careful examination of the forest, Naomi already appreciates the particular dangers of this geography--nature’s random inconsistencies, the deep crevasses, the snow-covered ravines that can swallow the screams of a child as her terrified parents search in vain.

The tale segues from Naomi’s meticulous preparations, avoiding the unwanted interest of strangers, to the experiences of a child who cannot remember her name, only thinks of herself as “the snow girl.” Although locked in a chilled, dark room, the girl imagines she is outside, earning the trust of her captor. But for his occasional violent temper, he does bring her into the forest for awhile, ever watchful that she might betray his trust. This is the only world she knows now; the name she scratched on the wall of her prison, Madison, no longer has any meaning.

While the novel remains grounded in the reality of Naomi’s search nearby--and the forest-dwellers who keep watch on the stranger in their midst--Madison’s limited experiences in captivity take on the aura of a fairytale as the snow girl learns the limitations of her space and the unpredictable ogre who keeps her close. The protagonist’s personal history adds more depth to the drama, the way in which the child finder has learned to navigate her own parameters, the tension building toward a confrontation, a life-and-death battle in a primitive environment. The author’s own open-mindedness about the definition of family and the healing power of forgiveness infuse the novel with compassion not only for the stolen child but also the monster, broken beyond repair. This is a novel of a woman who has not only reclaimed her life after tragedy but walks willingly into the heart of darkness to retrieve a little girl longing for her freedom.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2017

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