Review: Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott @RachelAbbott

SCThe Official Book Blurb

One Dark Secret. One act of revenge.

When Emma Joseph met her husband David, he was a man shattered by grief. His first wife had been killed outright when her car veered off the road. Just as tragically, their six-year-old daughter mysteriously vanished from the scene of the accident.

Now, six years later, Emma believes the painful years are behind them. She and David have built a new life together and have a beautiful baby son, Ollie.
Then a stranger walks into their lives, and their world tilts on its axis. Emma’s life no longer feels secure. Does she know what really happened all those years ago? And why does she feel so frightened for herself and for her baby?

When a desperate Emma reaches out to her old friend DCI Tom Douglas for help, she puts all their lives in jeopardy. Before long, a web of deceit is revealed that shocks both Emma and Tom to the core.

They say you should never trust a stranger. Maybe they’re right.

Now I haven’t been particularly good about reading these books in order, having skipped over Stranger Child in the past and reading Kill Me Again and The Sixth Window first. Taking the time to read, or rather listen to, this book has filled in one or two gaps in my understanding, namely what happened between Tom and Leo. One mystery solved. A mystery that took rather longer to get the bottom of was just who was Tasha. And if she really was who she said, what did she want from her return to the family fold?

Having been missing, presumed abducted, since she was a small child, Tasha’s return to her old home throws Emma and David completely. David is seemingly delighted and yet somewhat reticent about his daughters return but Emma has doubts over what motivated this quiet and angry young girl to arrive on their doorstep. What follows is a tale of abuse, organised gangs and a pitiful story of mistakes made over money which could have dire consequences for Emma and her young son. Enter Tom Douglas, not only a DCI in the local force but someone who Emma knows very well. So well that he may be the only person she trusts with her son’s life.

Now like most of Rachel Abbott’s books this is less about a police investigation and more about the impact of circumstances upon the main characters in the story, in this case Emma and Tasha. Ms Abbott excels in creating tension and throwing her protagonists into impossible situations, seeing how they fight their way out of them. She has created some characters with a great reserve of inner strength and in that way, Emma is no different. Which is good, because with the trial she is about to face she is going to have to be. She was a character I easily warmed to and Rachel Abbott did a wonderful job of portraying her fears and doubts over Ollie and the impact that Tasha’s reappearance was having on him.

As for Tasha, she is an angry and hurt child. It is hard to understand her at first, why she would remain so sullen and withdrawn when it appears she has voluntarily returned to be with her father. Surely this should be a good thing. But as you learn more of her story, hear about the pain and fear she has experienced in her very short life, then it becomes quite clear where the anger comes from. It was quite moving listening to the internal conflicts she was experiencing torn between the love she was developing for Ollie and the people she had been forced to think of as family for the past six years. Nobody should have to go through what she had experienced and it was hard to listen to at times but it was necessary. And although fictional, I can absolutely imagine many children, runaways and otherwise, who would experience or witness something similar in their lifetimes. A very sobering thought.

For me this marked a change in the direction of the books. This is the book where it felt less like Tom Douglas and Becky Robinson were on the periphery of the story, just handling the formalities of a police investigation, and that they were part of the story itself. Yes, this was in a way inevitable. Given Tom’s personal connection to Emma he was always going to be more active. But we got more of the investigation, in this case linking to the discovery of a young girl who had been murdered, and also of the covert operations around which Tom’s investigation skirted. And, as a key part of the story, we also found out more about Tom and the loss of his brother. I have always really liked the character of Tom Douglas and this book makes him even more appealing and lovable than before.

I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the audio on one of my many trips around the country. Skilfully narrated by Lisa Coleman she really brought the characters to life and made the story tick. Although hearing Tasha’s thoughts out loud, hearing a voice articulate the torture she endured did make it perhaps a little more uncomfortable than the clinical detachment you could gain from reading the words yourself. Do not get me wrong, nothing was gratuitous in content, but what was implied was enough to make the skin crawl.

There are some moments of real tension dotted throughout the book and a creeping menace which surrounds almost every action Tasha takes, especially at the start of the book. When she shows her true colours the impact is shocking, but not as much so as the ending. There are a few surprises in store for a good number of our key players, not all of them good. Perhaps parts of the story are more obvious than others, subtle and not so subtle hints are dropped throughout if you look closely enough, but Ms Abbott still manages to surprise and the final show down is dramatic and yet surprising.

This is an intriguing book, looking at the things that people will do for money and for family. And it poses an interesting question about how far people will go to protect either one. Some sacrifices are worth it… but are they all?

Stanger Child is available to purchase now from the following retailers.

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible

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