What if a stranger came along one day and told you that you had been kidnapped as a small child, that your parents weren’t really your parents and that your name and everything about you was fake?
Probably, you’d be shaken and then you’d tell them they’re crazy, which is exactly what Kim Leamy does when a complete stranger approaches her out of the blue to announce that after investigating the disappearance of a child in Kentucky 28 years ago, he believes she is that child.
But as Kim begins to scrutinise her family history, doubts surface like fine hairline fractures that widen to huge cracks until the desire to find out the truth sends Kim off in search of the truth – and so begins one of this year’s finest crime debuts, The Nowhere Child by Christian White.
Switching deftly between Then and Now, the story gives us fragments of the puzzle, and with each piece, the tension rises. Retracing the events of the day 2 year-old Sammy Went vanished from her home in a small US town called Manson, you meet Sammy and her family in small ‘grabs.’ Tidbits of information are uncovered, the odd revelation is divulged and you start to assemble a picture. Eventually, the entire cast of locals including the suspects and those involved in searching for Sammy come into the frame, along with an idea of everyday life in Manson.
In the Now, we follow Kim as the 787 descends through a clear blue sky and taxis towards the terminals, the American flag dancing in the wind as she heads for Manson in Kentucky, ‘land of endless wilderness, enormous food proportions, country music and Christian talkback radio.’
Both the town and the deeply fractured Went family harbour secrets. Turns out truth’s a rare commodity in Manson, while the unexpected lurks at every corner.
Take Kim’s first meeting with the woman who might be her real mother. Shock, disbelief, tears and emotion you might expect. But not the cold, sinister woman who greets her with a smile that reminds Kim of the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
Helped by Stuart (who may or may not be her full-blood brother), the deeper Kim delves into the mystery, the more her cool, calm composure unravels and her world begins to tilt. She’s never going to be overly effusive or affectionate, but it’s fascinating watching Kim become less disengaged, more flesh and blood. But whose flesh and blood?
Everyone in The Nowhere Child for that matter, feels real. There are no cliched baddies or goodies. Some people seem to have touches of both good and evil. Others leave you unsure which is partly what makes this such a good read. You are beset by doubt the whole way, not only about what happened, but who did it – and most of all, why?
The Nowhere Child has everything that comprises an excellent crime novel. It’s taut, raw, emotional, intriguing. The tension becomes unbearable, the story gets creepier as it goes on and the puzzle keeps you reading beyond midnight. Possibilities lurk at the edge of the plot like shadows.
‘Inspired by Gillian Flynn and Stephen King’s masterful world building,’ the story builds to an ‘electrifying climax,’ according to the publisher Affirm Press. Sheer terror is more like it as one scene of horror in particular, works its dark magic on every sense – touch, smell and feel – and it’s not gore.
No surprise that The Nowhere Child won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and has sold to 15 countries. No doubt either, that another huge talent the likes of Jane Harper, Sarah Bailey, and Dervla McTiernan has been unearthed.
Christian White – take a bow.
About the Author
Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter whose projects include feature film Relic. The Nowhere Child is his first book. An early draft of this novel won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, and rights were quickly sold into fifteen countries. Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write full time, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from home in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife, filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot. The Nowhere Child is his first book. He’s working on his second.