- Dear Child.
- Romy Hausmann (translated by Jamie Bulloch).
- 352 pages.
- Thriller / Psychological Thriller.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
You escaped. But your nightmare has just begun.
This thriller starts where others end.
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.
I won a copy of this book in a competition.
Lena has been trapped, living in a remote cabin with her captor and her two children, Hannah and Jonathan. After taking an opportunity when it arose, escaping from the cabin, fleeing into the night and running through the woods Lena is involved in an accident, a hit-and-run. She is seriously injured and taken to a hospital with her daughter, Hannah. With no identification, only the name of ‘Lena’ that Hannah gives to the hospital staff and no other information forthcoming from Hannah. The police put the description of the woman through the missing person’s system. A match is found, there are some similarities to the appearance of Lena Beck who has been missing for 4,825 days. Lena Beck, who, over thirteen years ago was abducted in Munich and vanished without a trace on her way back from a party in the early morning.
The detective from the original investigation into Lena’s disappearance contacts Matthias Beck and his wife Karin, Lena’s parent’s and tells then that a woman has been admitted to a hospital and that it could be Lena. The pair race to the hospital, hoping beyond hope that it is their daughter who has been brought in following the accident.
Matthias is allowed to view the patient but, the woman in the bed, though she bears a strong resemblance to Lena, even down to a scar on her temple isn’t Lena Beck, isn’t his beloved and missing daughter.
Hannah doesn’t just bear a resemblance to her mother to Lena, she is, in fact, the spitting image, an exact replica of a young Lena Beck. When Matthias notices her in the hospital it is like he has gone back in time and is looking at his own younger daughter. The woman in the hospital bed isn’t Lena but, Hannah and Jonathan are Lena’s two children. Which raises the questions, who is the woman in the hospital bed and what happened to Lena? With those questions there is a feeling that there is more going on than is readily apparent in Dear Child, something ominous lurking in the shadows, out of sight, buried beneath the surface with sinister secrets waiting to be revealed.
Dear Child is told through three perspectives. Those of ‘Lena’, Hannah and Matthias. ‘Lena’ is struggling to adjust to life after the cabin, to move on now that she is free, to come to terms with the ordeal, to process what happened to her, the living nightmare that was her captivity, the trauma that she went through and that has left a shadow upon her, like a spectre that haunts her and has left her scarred. Hannah is a clever, intelligent and polite child. She is literal in how she perceives things, in what she says and there is a practicality to her reasoning. She comes across as slightly strange with an oddness that exudes from her. Matthias isn’t the most likeable and he comes across as quite controlling and quick to anger. But, even if you don’t like him you can’t help but feel for him and for Karin. The plight that they have been through, the emotional turmoil of losing their daughter and not knowing what has happened to her. What they have been through for years and are still going through now. There has been no news, no developments but, always that lingering hope that one day Lena will be found alive and well and that they will be able to welcome home their daughter. Or, the worst case that her body, her remains will be found. But, then at least, they would know the truth, know that Lena had left this world and they would have closure, they would be able to lay that hope alongside her body to rest, be able to grieve and mourn her passing.
All three of ‘Lena’, Hannah and Matthias, are all well-realised characters and in their own way, all are victims who have suffered psychological trauma that has impacted them in various ways. The three perspectives work well to create an intelligent, cleverly woven, multi-layered and suspenseful story.
In the four walls of the isolated cabin, the captor is god. The boarded windows mean that there is no natural light, whether it is actually night or day is unknown and the captor controls the light and time of day inside the cabin. There are a stringent set of daily rules that have to be obeyed, set meal times, bedtimes, study time for the children and going to the bathroom is regulated to specific in the strictly adhered to and controlled regime set by the captor. The captor goes out, away to work, maintaining an air of normalcy away from the cabin and leaves ‘Lena’ and the two children locked inside, like a family, a sadistic, sick and twisted parody of happy family life, husband, wife and their two children confined inside the four walls that constituted a prison.
The recounting of life in the cabin is chilling and the abuse that ‘Lena’ suffers is horrifying. The captor relies on mental and psychological torture with the occasional violent outbursts, destroying who she was and turning her into who he wants her to be, attempting to break her spirit and conditioning her through the constant fear of reprisal.
I found Dear Child to be well-written and well-paced. There is a decent flow to the writing with a serious tone that serves to complement the harrowing story. A story that, by its nature is dark and, as the truth is disclosed gets even darker. A quick mention to Jamie Bulloch, the translator who I feel has done a stellar job translating Dear Child from the original German text by Romy Hausmann into English.
Dear Child is compelling, disturbing and unsettling and the short epilogue to close the story is absolutely stunning. All books end, some with a bang, some with a whimper and others with an emotional punch to the heart, Dear Child is the latter. Hausmann has ended the story in an incredible way showing that you can beat someone down but you can’t break them, the power to endure, the strength of will and that light can always shine no matter how dark it is, brilliant.
Pre-order Dear Child by Romy Hausmann (translated by Jamie Bulloch) released on May 14th, 2020.
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