Book Nook: The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld

Oct 2, 2017

Rene Denfeld returned to the program to talk about her second novel. As we enter the final months of this year I am putting together my lists of favorite reads from 2017. This incredible book will definitely be on my list for fiction. Wow! It is an amazing, uplifting story. Here's my review that ran recently in the Cox Ohio newspapers:

Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator. She conducts investigations to determine whether some people who have been sentenced to be put to death were wrongly convicted. Her efforts have resulted in the exoneration of some of those individuals. In 2014 she published "The Enchanted." It was her first novel.

"The Enchanted" was inspired by Denfeld's occupation. The main character in that story is a man who has been sentenced to be executed for some terrible crimes he has committed. While he is incarcerated and waiting for his sentence to be carried out he lives in isolation with virtually no contact with other people. Denfeld was able to perform an impressive literary feat: we feel empathy for her convicted killer. It is a truly magical tale.

Her second novel "The Child Finder" is quite different but there are some themes that reminded this reviewer of her splendid debut. Denfeld has also conducted investigations into missing children. Her experiences investigating child abductions inform this new book. It is a book about missing children.

The protagonist in "The Child Finder" is a young woman named Naomi. As the story opens Naomi has arrived at the home of a couple who have lost their young daughter. Naomi is "the child finder" of the title. She investigates the disappearances of children.

They have hired Naomi to search for their daughter Madison. It had been a carefree family on that tragic day when they drove up into the Oregon mountains to cut down a Christmas tree. Her parents stopped watching her for a moment. Madison wandered away into the forest. There's been no trace of her since.

Denfeld writes: "Naomi imagined a five-year-old girl, lost and shivering, wandering in what must have seemed like an endless forest. Madison Culver had been missing for three years. She would be eight years old by now-if she survived."

Naomi has been doing this work since she was twenty. She feels a deep connection with missing children. She had been one herself. We flash back to the child Naomi's arrival at the home of the woman who would become her foster mother.

As the story progresses we assemble the shards of her history. Naomi doesn't really remember. She has blanked out her memories of what transpired before escaping from her abductors. As she searches for Madison in the remote wilderness Naomi begins to piece together her own past.

Naomi accepts one case at a time. While she searches for Madison another child has been reported missing. Reluctantly she accepts this second case, too.

There are men who are very attracted to Naomi. She has never had a boyfriend and finds it exhausting to respond to their overtures. Then there's Madison-she's still very much alive. The story zips back and forth between Naomi and Madison. They are magnificent characters.

This novel is brilliantly conceived. The author telegraphs a number of things to her readers. We understand Naomi will find Madison. Her abductor is also apparent to us. He was an abused child and has led a deprived and solitary life. We feel empathy for him. When I finished reading this astonishing story I shed tears of joy.

The Book Nook on WYSO is made possible by five local library systems in southwest Ohio: the Greene County Public Library,  Washington-Centerville Public Library,  Clark County Public LibraryDayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.