A windowless shack in the woods. Lena’s life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.
One day Lena manages to flee – but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called ‘Lena’, who disappeared without a trace over thirteen years ago. The police and Lena’s family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle that doesn’t quite seem to fit.
What an absolutely fantastic debut novel this is! It has been pitched as the thriller that starts where other thrillers end. It’s a great hook, and more than lives up to its promise. It begins with a young woman who escapes from a small cabin in the woods on the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. Her story raises a lot of questions, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is no simple missing persons tale, and her story becomes increasingly complicated as more information comes to light. I don’t want to go into the plot in any detail – it would be far too easy to let something slip, and I recommend going into this one with as little prior knowledge as possible.
Hausmann does a brilliant job of highlighting that, in this novel, escape is only the beginning, and it allows her to explore the psychological impact of having endured such a horrifying ordeal. Physically free, our protagonist is still a captive in some respects as her fear of her abductor’s return all but cripples her. She is unable to sleep, and barely able to leave her apartment. Hausmann shows great sensitivity and insight in exploring the psychological damage that such an ordeal might result in. Hausmann also explores the media reaction, and the way they’ll seek out anyone in the victim’s proximity in order to get a new angle on the story. This also causes a certain amount of paranoia, not knowing if you’ll open your door to the paparazzi simply because a neighbour let them in. It’s a depressing thought, but unfortunately accurate.
Lena’s story is also only a part of the narrative, and we see the impact of her disappearance on her parents, Karin and Matthias. Living in a strange limbo of not knowing what had happened to their daughter for over thirteen years, they’ve been unable to accept that they might never see her again, despite the decreasing likelihood of a viable lead as time marches on. The reader sees Lena’s father perspective throughout the novel, and the spike of hope as they hear that someone matching Lena’s description has been found alive, if not entirely well. While Karin seems like a good person, Matthias is a much more complicated character. I felt sympathy for him and understood his anger at the situation and the way that he felt let down by the authorities – particularly as the officer in charge of investigating Lena’s disappearance was a close friend – but I found him increasingly difficult to like as the novel progressed.
Dear Child is a fantastic thriller. It’s engaging and complex, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. There are so many questions to be answered and while it seems straightforward from the opening pages, it proves to be anything but. With her debut, Hausmann has brought something a little different to the genre, and I can’t recommend Dear Child enough.
Dear Child will be published on 14 May by Quercus. Many thanks to Hannah Robinson and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review ahead of publication.