According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 800,000 children go missing in America every year. Down through history there have been high profile cases, such as the Lindbergh baby – kidnapped in 1932 and most recently Madeline McCann who was abducted in Portugal in 2007. Even with the development of Amber Alert schemes, child abduction is an ever present scourge on society. Thus we come to this months book, its In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings published by Orenda Books ( http://www.orendabooks.co.uk) in April.
“In Her Wake” is promoted as a physchological thriller. But if you’re looking for those sharp-intake-of-breath or ‘oh, no I can’t look’ moments, they’re not here. What is in this book is far more harrowing, far more disturbing than momentary shock-horror thrills.
Amanda Jennings takes a topic that we all recoil from – child abduction – and presents it in a way that forces us to look beyond the stereotyped portrayals of the tabloid press. This is not abduction by a sexual predator. This is opportunistic abduction – the ‘spur-of-the-moment’ action of a distraught woman desperate to have a child. A single, momentary decision that sends shock waves through the lives of the child, the abductor, her husband and all members of the child’s family. The moment that forever after divides their lives into the normal ‘before’ and the abnormal ‘after’.
How do a childless couple explain to their families and friends that they have just acquired a three-year-old daughter? Or do they? How do they ensure that nobody – ever – puts two and two together and links them to the abduction everyone has heard about on the news?
How does a mother cope with having a child stolen from her? Not struck down by illness or fatal accident; not taken by a partner or the social services – stolen. Plucked out of the centre of her life. Disappeared without trace. To where? To what? What’s everyday life like with those questions perpetually ricocheting through your mind?
And the abducted child’s father? Her sister? If only they had done / not done … If only they had……..What happens when your life is continually corroded by the dripping acid of guilt?
And the child – what of her? We meet her as a grown woman in her late twenties on her way to her mother’s funeral. Married to a fussy, controlling older man she has an emotionally strained, distant relationship with her father. The loss of her mother has hit her hard, she is reeling with grief. But it is the events that unfold over the coming days that splinter her life apart. She isn’t who she thought she was. The woman just buried was not her mother. This is for Bella what the moment of abduction was for the others – the moment that forever more divides her life into ‘before’ and ‘after’. Would she be better off not knowing? Not finding out? Continuing to live the life she had grown into? But once Pandora’s box is opened, there is no going back. If she’s not Bella, who is she?
So begins Bella’s quest to find out who she really is. A quest in which Jenning’s expertly – and unobtrusively – poses all of the above questions and, through some truly wonderful characterizations, explores potential answers.
This the third book of British author Amanda Jennings (www.amandajennings.co.uk), her previous two books are Sworn Secret (2012) and The Judas Scar (2014). She previously worked for the BBC and and sitcom script that was shortlisted by them was was made up her mind to write full time after the birth of her second child. She’s also a regular guest presenter on the BBC Radio Berkshire’s weekly book club.
I mentioned above that the plot-line of this book is not that of the standard physchological thriller. Nor are the character portrayals. Except for one carbord-cut-out (Greg) all the other main characters are beautifully drawn – real-life people that the reader can empathise with, even when their actions are driven by cowardice (Bella’s ‘first’ father), despair (Bella’s birth father) and self-centered pomposity (Bella’s husband). And the description of the unfolding of the relationship between Bella and her sister is truly heartwarming.
Set against the backdrop of the Cornish coast, the plot unfolds with some very unexpected
twists and turns – all but the last ‘near-death’ scene reflecting Jennings talent at presenting a ‘curve-ball’ that is both surprising and, once described, totally obvious. More than once did I find myself exclaiming – “Oh Yes, I can see that happening , but I’d never have thought of it!”
This is the first Amanda Jenning’s book I have read but, given the complexity of both her character portrayals and her plot-lines it won’t be the last. A thoroughly good – and absorbing – read.