Book Review: ‘Nowhere Child’ by Rachel Abbott

The end of Stranger Child was as tense as the start. Of course this review is about an entirely different book, but if you haven’t read that one, stop reading this now, go and download it on any device you can find and read into the night, then come back. A Rachel Abbott book is very hard to resist.

Stranger Child is the reason I’d pre-ordered Nowhere Child on Kindle and made sure it was downloaded on the very morning of release at 6am. As it turned out, the extra hour on the delayed train was less troublesome thanks to the company of this excellent novella, which I finished (in poetic fashion) just as we pulled into Waterloo.

Now I couldn’t identify with a single character; I’m not a mother, I’m not homeless, I have loving parents, I’m not a police officer, and my life is remarkable for its pure conventionality. But oh, how I’ve been rooting for these people. Part of the appeal of Rachel Abbott’s novels is her ability to create likeable characters, who do some of the most detestable things, yet still I like them. They’re cleverly crafted to quickly become rounded people within a chapter, with nuanced personalities, neither perfectly good or inherently evil, but with decent hearts compromised by life’s events and the crueler, ruthless characters who crop up. The character of Tom, Detective Chief Inspector, threads through each novel, and he too experiences the different pressures of being law abiding as a law enforcer and disobeying his moral obligations to be humane in circumstance. His appearance in Nowhere Child ties the novels together, and once again I don’t envy the complex and damaging crimes he has to deal with. So when the end of Stranger Child was left open, my book club were exclaiming over what may happen next, and I was tweeting Rachel to find out whether there might be a sequel. Luckily there is.

Vivid, matter-of-fact imagery creates atmosphere right from the beginning of Nowhere Child. We meet Tasha around the weak fire in a dripping, chilly tunnel eating food from bins, while her stepmother desperately seeks her out. I was desperate to see Tasha returned to her home, where she’d actually only lived for a matter of days, to the stepmother she barely knew. Every page had me urging the characters on to the safety and comfort I had envisaged for them in the previous book; but it’s not that simplistic, and the deviations from my idealised route are frustratingly convincing.

Nowhere Child maintains the same pace and tension I have found addictive in Abbot’s previous four novels. Whether it is a wait, a phone call or a chase, there is no let up for your emotions. Her ability to build tension, intrigue and suspects will keep you guessing. Book and Pudding Club have read two of Abbot’s novels in four parts over four weeks and while the waiting was torture, the theorising was delicious. There are so many clues to explore and motives to uncover that we each had our theories, and texts would fly before the next meeting once we’d begun the next chapters, usually as soon as we’d got home. As the novella is shorter, it has an undercurrent of threat, without the searching for suspects. Capture hasn’t diminished their threat, and their continued presence gives the book it’s cold, heartless component. In Nowhere Child the search is for a child, Tasha, whose worldliness, resilience and vulnerability give you as much cause to rescue her as her stepmother Emma finds, despite Tasha’s theft of her most precious worldly good.

You could read this alone but I wouldn’t – purely because Abbott’s other novels are equally as good. If you loved Gone Girl, but hated the ending – Abbott is a tonic, the endings are as gripping as the start. She is deservedly a Kindle bestseller. I have yet to read a psychological thriller that has gripped me, intrigued me and thrilled me as much, yet simultaneously made me feel that human nature is, despite this psychological battle, still inherently good.

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