10 August 2011

Crime Fiction: Children gone missing

I'm currently reading BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French, with a day or two to go, and it has occurred to me that I've read (and reviewed) a lot of books over the years based on the premise of a missing child or children.

You can probably add to my list at the foot of this post, but it does seem that I've read a lot, and I think these may just be the tip of the iceberg. One thing that is interesting is how many of the stories are about "cold cases" where the abduction took place decades ago and the case was never solved.

Publisher's blurb for BLUE MONDAY (Amazon)
Monday, the lowest point of the week. A day of dark impulses. A day to snatch a child from the streets ...The abduction of five-year-old Matthew Farraday provokes national outcry and a desperate police hunt. And when his face is splashed over the newspapers, psychotherapist Frieda Klein is left troubled: one of her patients has been relating dreams in which he has a hunger for a child. A child he can describe in perfect detail, a child the spitting image of Matthew.Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson doesn't take Frieda's concerns seriously until a link emerges with an unsolved abduction twenty years ago and he summons Frieda to interview the victim's sister, hoping she can stir hidden memories. Before long, Frieda is at the centre of the race to track the kidnapper. But her race isn't physical. She must chase down the darkest paths of a psychopath's mind to find the answers to Matthew Farraday's whereabouts. And sometimes the mind is the deadliest place to lose yourself.

Books I've read

FROZEN TRACKS, Ake Edwardson
The autumn gloom comes quickly on the Swedish city of Gothenburg, and for Detective Inspector Erik Winter the days seem even shorter, the nights bleaker, when he is faced with two seemingly unrelated sets of perplexing crimes. The investigation of a series of assaults and a string of child abductions take Winter to "the flats," the barren prairies of rural Sweden whose wastelands conceal crimes as sinister as the land itself.

Julia Davidsson's life fell apart when her beautiful son Jens disappeared one foggy afternoon on the remote island of Oland in Sweden. Jen was just six years old, and Julia's relationship with his father had already collapsed. Her own mother had already begun her decline and never recovered, and Julia under-estimated the guilt her father felt afterwards.

SHARK MUSIC (aka FIND ME), Carol O'Connell
a moving caravan of vehicles is travelling the Mother Road, Main Street USA, variously known as Route 66, Route 80, and the I-55. Leading them is psychiatrist Paul Magritte, almost like a patriarch leading a lost tribe, except that the cars contain parents of missing children. These people have been gathered from Magritte’s therapy patients and from internet groups. At each point where the caravan stops the parents post pictures of the lost children. As the caravan gathers media attention, so it also attracts more parents.

Emilia Troy is the missing child, and her father thinks that she has been taken by Joshua Salem, a social worker and a neighbour. Emilia is only three.

People are gathering on Hungerford Common near the neolithic stone horsehoe in time for the summer solstice. There will be a traditional English fair with stalls, crafts, shire horses, food and drink. Romanies and new Age travellers are arriving with their gypsy caravans and campervans. On the night before the summer solstice six year old Jordan Abbott who lives with her mother in the houses bordering the Common disappears, and local distrust of the gypsies surfaces.

DYING GASP, Leighton Gage
In The Netherlands, a bomb explodes on a tram.
Eight thousand kilometers away, in Brazil, the granddaughter of a powerful politician is kidnapped.

THE PURE IN HEART by Susan Hill. #2 in the Simon Serrailler series. The first real case in the book is the apparent kidnapping of a 9 year old boy as he stands on the footpath outside his home waiting for his ride to school.
And as Serrailler's assistant Detective Sergeant Nathan Coates thinks..
What can it be like to go out one morning and everything's hunky-dory, and at the end of the day, wham, your kid's gone, just... gone? Jesus.

INVOLUNTARY WITNESS by Gianrico Carofiglio
Not an optimistic one because the boy is found dead and so the book is about the attempt to lay the blame.
A Senegalese peddlar working on the beaches of Bari in southern Italy has been accused of the murder of a young boy, whose body was found down a well 12 kilometers away. Guido Guerrieri, Counsel for the Defence, originally advises the accused to opt for a "short trial", a method in which the accused basically pleads guilty and gets a reduced sentence because of that. But the accused says he is not guilty and although he thinks the case is hopeless Guido also believes him. This novel is an Italian prize winner, translated into English. It is Carofiglio's debut novel, won a number of literary awards, and also already become the basis for an Italian TV series. Very different view of Italian justice system to Donna Leon. But then Bari is not Venice.

IN THE WOODS by Tana French
Three 12 years olds are playing in the woods at Knocknaree and then there is one. The other two vanish and the remaining child Adam Ryan is in a catatonic state and remembers nothing. Life goes on but the two children are never found and Adam Ryan becomes detective Rob Ryan. Twenty years on the woods are to be demolished to make way for a motorway. When protesters assert that the woods are of archaelogical significance they are given time to excavate and to retrieve anything of value. Then the body of a young girl is found near the excavation site, and Rob Ryan is part of the team assigned the case. He knows he should declare his conflict of interest but he doesn't. Gradually as the investigation develops the layers of his memory onion peel back and he gets closer to the truth. A strong debut novel that tackles an idea others have tackled before

BLACK SECONDS by Karin Fossum
Helga Joner has often thought that her nine year old daughter Ida is too good to be true, too good to last. The disappearance of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. When Ida fails to arrive home from the shop, Helga feels she had been rehearsing the moment for years. First Helga and her sister Ruth scour the streets where they might find Ida, without success, and then they ring the police. Helga feels that somehow she has tempted fate, setting off an inevitable chain of events.
When Inspector Konrad Sejer arrives at her house, Helga feels instinctively that he will find Ida. As time passes Sejer becomes concerned that no trace has been found of Ida or the bright yellow bicycle she rode to the shop. One hundred and fifty volunteers search for Ida without success. Eight days later there are still no clues, the search is to be scaled down, and a chance comment by Helga to Sejer gives them something new to work on.

NO TRACE by Barry Maitland
In this work Maitland turns his focus on an artistic community where one of the leading artists, Gabriel Rudd, has won England’s most controversial art awards, the Turner Prize, with a painting he completed after the death of his wife. Now his daughter has disappeared, and two other young girls have also gone missing at the same time. Rudd begins to work on an art installation based on the grief he is experiencing for his lost daughter Tracey.

ON BEULAH HEIGHT by Reginald Hill
Andy Dalziel's worst case was when 3 little girls went missing at Dendale, a small community where a dam was being built. They were never found and Benny Lightfoot, the man suspected of their disappearance, disappeared without trace too. The valley was flooded and the crime was never solved. Most of the families moved into a neighbouring valley, and now, 15 years on, another little girl has gone missing. But little Betsy Lightfoot had survived 15 years ago, and now she has come back to the area. She was 7 years old when Dendale was drowned. And it seems too that Benny is back.

Three year old Anna Brennan was abducted from her seat in a crowded church at midnight mass while her parents left her for a moment to receive Communion. She is kidnapped, believed murdered.

THE WOODS by Harlan Coben
Paul Copeland, county prosecutor for Essex in New Jersey, has had an emotional roller coaster of a life. Right now he is the only immediate family his six year old daughter Cara has. Her mother died of cancer 5 years ago. Paul comes from Russian immigrant parents and recently his father died. But Paul's family was shattered twenty years ago when he and his sister Camille were on a holiday camp and Camille disappeared. Camille and three friends went into the woods near the camp at night. Two were found murdered but Camille and one of the boys were never found. Paul remembers that his father used to spend time searching the woods, digging for his sister's body. Now Paul recognises a murder victim as the boy who disappeared. So where is his sister? Is she still alive? An excellent read, that keeps you guessing until the final pages. 

A woman fails to stop after causing an accident on the icy road of the Baltimore Beltway. She knows she should slow down, stop, check on the other car, but she is close to her exit. Her car is damaged and barely driveable, so she parks it on the shoulder of the road and begins walking. She is stopped by a patrol officer who barely understands what she is telling him when she says "I'm one of the Bethany girls".
Thirty years before the Bethany girls aged eleven and fifteen had disappeared on the Easter weekend from the Mall. There had been few clues about what had happened to them, no ransom note, occasional false sightings, and then silence for thirty years. So if this woman was one of them, where had she been all that time? and what had happened to her sister?

BLACKLANDS, Belinda Bauer
In Steven Lamb's house where he lives with his gran, his mother, his little brother, and a succession of "uncles", there is a room that has been a shrine for nineteen years. It is his Uncle Billy's room. Steven is 12 years old and his Uncle Billy disappeared on a trip to the corner shop when he was just a little younger than Steven.


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - You're quite right. There are a lot of books that have that theme. I think it's one of those themes that really grabs people, so to speak. In fact, I've spoken to some people who've said that theme is too gripping and strong for them. Interesting and well-taken point you make here.

Marce said...

I really look forward to reading this NicciF.

I am intrigued with this theme also, haven't thought about how many books I have read but definitely will add a few to my Wishlist from yours.

I'm about to read Someone Else's Son by Sam Hayes, she seems like another author you would enjoy. I really liked Tell Tale.

Dorte H said...

What a good idea with a list of stories with this horrible, but intriguing plot. The latest I have read is S.J. Bolton´s Blood Harvest. An amazing pageturner.

kathy d. said...

This is a good, but very gruesome topic.

I've read three books on this list. They were all good, but completely different books: Involuntary Witness, What the Dead Know and In the Woods.

These books were all "unputdownable."

Carofiglio also dealt squarely with the issue of anti-immigrant racism, in addition to the death of a child.

French's book is fascinating, and I hope that one day there is a solid solution to the children's disappearance.

Lippman's book, while seemingly a puzzle, deals with very weighty issues which affect women and girls.

Susan said...

You should read Blacklands by Belinda Bauer! I read it earlier this year, and it was amazing, very good, and a little bit different. With this same theme of missing children in the past.

I enjoyed your list and have added two books to my books to find list - The Woods, and Frozen Tracks. I've read In the Woods, The Pure in Heart, Echoes from the Dead, and I own Find Me, On Beulah Heights and What the Dead Know.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for the suggestions Susan. I have added BLACKLANDS which I have read and reviewed.


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