Oct/Nov 2017 Reviews & Interviews

The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child.
Sanjida Kay.
Corvus. 2017. 313 pp.
ISBN 978 1 78239 691 8.

Review by Ann Skea

From the start Evie's life has been precarious. Born four weeks early with Foetal Alcohol syndrome and treated for drug addiction while still in the incubator, she struggles to survive. Zoe and Ollie Morley are with her through all this, watching her, loving her, and longing to hold their adopted daughter in their arms.

Seven years later, when their natural child Ben is a demanding two-year-old, Zoe discovers Evie has been receiving letters and presents from someone who claims to be her "real daddy." These letters and presents continue to arrive. "To my daughter. All my love, your daddy" reads one. And another: "I've been searching for you ever since you were stolen from me." Evie is secretive and hides these letters and gifts, but Zoe finds them.

Then, on a day when Zoe has been cross with Evie as she drops her off at school, Evie disappears, and The Stolen Child becomes a thrilling and totally absorbing mystery story. The fact that the family lives in a village on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors adds tension to the resulting search.

Zoe's work as an artist brings her into contact with a fellow artist, Haris, who woos her and fascinates her. He seems to share her own artistic sensibility, and while she juggles her work life with home and childcare, she has come to feel increasingly distanced from Ollie, whose own work consumes most of his time and attention. Haris, however, is a mystery. He is a stranger in the district, he lives in a hut on the Moors, he seems always to turn up unexpectedly, and he seems, too, to know a great deal about Zoe and her family.

Ben is a normal, lovable, hyperactive, stress-inducing two-year-old, and Evie, before she disappears, is often strange and difficult to understand. The people who are close to Zoe—friends, school teachers, and helpers—all become involved in the investigation of Evie's disappearance, and as the days pass without any sign of Evie, everyone, including Ollie, becomes a suspect.

Every so often a chapter headed with the Muslim moon and star symbol is written in the voice of the abductor, expressing longing for Evie and describing how she was found again after "They stole you from me," and vowing to take her back. At one point, too, it seems Evie may have managed to escape from her abductor. At another time, her dress is found on the moor.

Sanjida Kay writes grippingly and realistically of the anxiety, the procedures and traumas of police investigation, and the inevitable involvement of the media. An added drama of Ben's poisoning and his parents' agonizing hospital attendance as they wait, watching the monitors that chart his life/death struggle, while still desperate to find Evie, is moving and harrowing.

Not until the very last pages is the mystery resolved. Meanwhile, we are led to share Zoe's suspicions of even those who seem to be her closest friends, and we experience her stress, her fears, her self-doubt, her mistakes, her growing estrangement from Ollie, and her fierce love for Ben and Evie. Zoe, Ben, Evie, Ollie—all are believable and likeable characters. Sanjida Kay skilfully balances the tension and fear that affects them all with the very recognizable, every-day realities of family life, and she weaves together many threads to immerse the reader in a situation that must be every parent's nightmare.


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