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by Abbie Taylor
Bantam, March 2009
314 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 055381981X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I have read plenty of horror stories (i.e. books within the horror genre) in my time, but, to my way of thinking, this story about a mother whose baby has been stolen and to whom no one wishes to listen raises more goose flesh on my arms than ever did the most gory vampire story I ever encountered, Bram Stoker notwithstanding. I can read loads of stories about banshees howling, people being set upon in graveyards and ominous shadows in badly lit rooms while a thunderstorm rages outside the windows and scarcely turn a hair, but let a child be threatened and.....

Emma is the tired single mother of a thirteen month-old child. Ritchie (I couldn't come to terms with the "t" in his name, something I've never encountered in real life with people named Richard) is trapped on a train in the London Underground, the doors having closed before Emma could hoist herself and her belongings onto the train with him. Fortunately, a woman calling herself Antonia is in the carriage with him and takes the toddler off the train to return him to his mother at the next stop. Emma, of course, is thoroughly exhausted from the drama and willingly has coffee with Antonia. She takes her eyes off Ritchie and Antonia while she looks for some tissues in the toilets, but when she gets back to the table in the café, discovers Antonia and Ritchie have vanished.

The horror truly begins when Emma collapses, finds herself in hospital and no one seems to believe that her child has been stolen, but instead think that Ritchie belonged to Antonia and Emma had approached the two of them.

Emma's claims are eventually validated and the search begins for the missing child and his kidnapper, although Emma is frustrated, feeling that more could be done, so takes it upon herself to try to find her son.

As I said previously, this is indeed a horror story, especially for anyone who has ever had a child, especially if that child has ever managed to go missing, however briefly. The author has managed to convey perfectly the panic that a mother would feel. The characterisation is quite well done - the dispassionate, disinterested (not, I must emphasise, uninterested) face of officialdom and the effect that would have on a frantic mother.

There are other aspects, too. How often, during a young child's life might a young mother feel completely overwhelmed and wish, however transiently, that the child be taken from her, that she no longer had the constant battle to look after them both?

Perhaps the only inconsistency I felt in the tale was that of Antonia's husband. Could a sane, loving husband possibly conspire with his obsessed wife to such a degree as to condone a crime of such a magnitude?

I found the book singularly absorbing and moving. My own son must have wondered at my ringing him in the middle of a work week, just to check he was healthy and happy, but that's how much the book affected me!

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, July 2009

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