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 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.
As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?
Ghosts are just dead people we haven’t found.
Rene Denfeld proves in her follow up novel to ‘The Enchanted’ that she is certainly adept at tackling dark subject matter in a manner that, while sensitive, accurately portrays the sense of quiet horror.
As the title suggests, the novel focuses on a private investigator, Naomi, who specialises in missing children. As a former missing child herself, she is continually working on piecing together fragmented memories of her own past. Due to trauma-related amnesia, she doesn’t have much to go on, but we do gain insight into her recovery in the home of her foster mother, a wonderful specimen of humanity who loves and cherishes her.
Naomi’s latest case is that of Madison, a young girl who went missing three years prior in a desolate snowy landscape, making the likelihood of finding her alive particularly slim. She has a particular gift, however, and the novel traces her methodical search for the child, involving cases of years past, suspicious neighbours and hostile terrain.
Naomi always began by learning to love the world where the child went missing. It was like carefully unravelling a twisted ball of yarn. A bus stop that led to a driver that led to a basement room, carefully carpeted in soundproofing. A ditch in full flood that led to a river, where sadness awaited on the shore.
The perspectives alternate with those of the kidnapped Madison, as well as her captor, who remains a shadowy figure for most of the novel. Please be aware that there are depictions of child abuse. While they are not overly graphic, they are almost more horrifying in their subtlety, in the aftermath rather than the actual act.
There’s something magical about Denfeld’s writing. It’s sorrowful and relentless, pushing you forward to the conclusion – and you are powerless to resist. This book is ideal for those who prefer what I like to call ‘quiet’ mysteries – it’s not action-packed, but there is certainly a palpable sense of dread, and a focus just as much on the personal as the procedural.
Review copy received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.