Sunday 7 May 2017

Child Taken by Darren Young

Published by Red Door on May 18, 2017

Child Taken is Darren Young’s debut novel and it has quickly become one of my favourite books of the year. I love a debut novel, the chance to discover the voice of a new author and a story you don’t know what to expect from, but whilst I enjoyed both those aspects to this book, the writing was so extremely compelling right from the beginning and the writing style was so fresh and original that really this felt like reading a book from an accomplished, favourite author instead. This was a book I was desperate to get back to whenever I put it down and a book I had to read into the early hours of the morning as I couldn’t sleep for thinking about the characters. And if Darren Young can write a debut that has me hooked as much as Child Taken did, I am very excited to read what’s next.

Jessica Preston is just two years old when she goes missing on the beach. Everybody believes she must have drowned. Everybody except her mother Sandra, who twenty years later is still convinced her daughter is alive and that on that unthinkable day on the beach, she was taken by somebody else. As if Sandra’s life wasn’t terrible enough when her daughter went missing, following on from then her husband drank himself to his death and their son was put into foster care. Now she’s in a mental institution, still hoping that one day her daughter might come back and find her…

In Child Taken, we also meet Danni and Laura. Danni’s parents are keeping a secret from her. She’s heard them arguing about it. Danni has also found something unusual hidden away in their home and she’s not sure what it means but as stress and grief takes its toll on her family, she’s beginning to wonder where she really belongs. Laura is a young journalist working at the local paper. Work which mostly involves filing, filing and more filing, as well as being shouted at by her boss on a daily basis. Until one day, when there’s a bug going around her work, she’s given a case of a missing child to work on. A similarly young girl has gone missing, and this case leads Laura to seek more answers on the Jessica Preston case. But what she discovers could put more than just her own life in danger…

The writing style of the author is really striking from the opening chapter. This book is split into several parts and short and snappy chapters. It is mostly told in third person as we focus on both Laura and Danni, but at times there is a first person viewpoint as we learn more about the Jessica Preston case and the impact that had on her mother. I found the way the author constructed his story to be really engaging and with the end of every chapter I was left impatient and eager to read another to discover more about both missing children cases. The further into the book I was, the more engrossed I became and so despite this being quite a long book, I raced through it in just two days.

I found the theme of this book to be utterly fascinating. The idea of child abduction is put into the reader’s mind straight away as Sandra is convinced it couldn’t be anything else. It almost feels a little bit wrong to find a case like that so absorbing, as you can’t even begin to imagine how the family missing their child are feeling, but the way the author writes this book had me very involved in the story from the other side too, which surprised me. I know that missing children has become a common theme of psychological thrillers recently, and I know that could put some readers off, but honestly I found this book to be completely unlike all the rest and absolutely well worth reading. I haven’t been this intrigued by a book in a while now but Child Taken left me completely satisfied.

The characterisation in this book was done really well too. Laura and Danni came across as realistic and believable characters. I could relate to both of them in certain ways. But they weren’t the only characters well written by this author. Every character had something about them and I found them all interesting and engaging. Then there was the content of the narrative which I also loved. The plot was layered and tightly written, with a heartfelt story and incredible twists and turns throughout. The author surprised me many times as I read and re-read things that I just did not see coming. Overall I found this book to be fantastically compelling with a level of unpredictability and some tense, nail-biting moments throughout. Child Taken is as close to unputdownable as books come.

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