Mon
Oct 2 2017 2:00pm

Review: Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan

Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan is the second book in the Detective Jim Clemo series (available October 3, 2017).

Detective Jim Clemo is back on the Bristol police force after six months of enforced counseling. To ease him back into service, he’s given a case that doesn’t seem too difficult on the surface: Noah Sadler, a terminally ill teenager, is found near death in Bristol’s Feeder Canal. There are reports of an altercation. One of only two witnesses to the incident is a woman who was parked rather far away—she claims there was a fight between Noah and the other witness, Abdi Mahad, a Somali refugee and Noah’s best friend.

When Clemo goes to interview Abdi, he finds the boy in shock and unable—or unwilling—to speak about what happened to his best friend. As Clemo delves deeper into the seeming accident, he finds himself in the center of a hotbed of racial political dispute. Abdi is Somali. Noah is British. And somewhere between the two families trying desperately to defend their sons, Detective Clemo has to find the truth of what happened at the Canal. 

Odd Child Out is Gilly Macmillan’s artful followup to the first novel in the Detective Jim Clemo series, What She Knew. Macmillan’s Odd Child Out comes up hard after the first novel in the series, with Clemo having gone through the required counseling sessions, but he’s obviously still in a somewhat fragile psychological state. To find out what really happened to Noah Sadler, Clemo will have to use everything in his mental arsenal to get through.

Macmillan’s story would be an emotional obstacle course for a perfectly mentally healthy main character: a teenage cancer patient with only a couple of months to live is attacked and almost drowns—almost dies an even earlier death than his prognosis. A teenage refugee who was born under the harshest of circumstances. Two best friends who have supported each other through thick and thin and seem to have broken into a mortal fight. One family fighting for the life of their very sick son. One family who fought tooth and nail to get to freedom.

Yes, there’s a lot of Clemo to unpack. 

The strongest pieces to this story, however, are sections that Clemo can’t see or hear or touch because the reader is in Noah’s point of view. And Noah is in a medically induced coma to help with the physical trauma he’s endured—but he can still hear everything around him. He just can’t react to it. The situation is terrifying in a quiet, horrible way. When Noah spikes a fever, the reader is shown just how helpless he is. 

I hear lots of shoe shuffling and squeaking. I’ve become hyper-aware of sound. I think there are a few people around my bedside.

“We should see a temperature drop pretty fast. That’s the idea, anyway.”

“It’s a lot of ice.” 

“We’ll keep it there for as long as we need to and replace it if necessary.” 

“Will he be able to feel this?”

“I doubt it,” said the doctor, but to cover his bases he raises his voice and says, “Noah, we’re packing some ice around you because you’re running a very high temperature and we need to bring it down.” 

I want to say, “Please don’t.” I’m scared of the heat, but also of the cold. I don’t know if I can stand it. 

I still can’t speak though, so I have to lie there and suck it up. A strange thing happens. I can’t physically feel the cold, but my brain reacts by taking me on a memory trip to places where I’ve felt cold before: a skiing holiday, an ice rink where I held on to a plastic penguin, the hospital bed I was in the time my temperature plummeted after surgery and I got uncontrollable chills, and then, of course, the canal water.

I remember how hard it was to move in the water, and the pull of the current. I remember feeling powerless, the way you feel when they dose your body so full of toxic drugs that you feel as if you’re as fragile as an eggshell.

This is not your typical suspense/mystery novel in that so much centers on the relationship between Noah and Abdi. Macmillan plays with the similarities and differences in the two teenagers to ramp up our affection for both. On one hand, we have a sick child who probably won’t ever finish his bucket list. On the other, we have a Somali boy who is raised by parents who don’t speak the same language but has a bright future ahead of him. 

Both boys enjoy “nerding out”—they’re members of the chess club and get high marks in school. And, after the incident at the Canal, both are silent. 

“Abdi,” I say to the back of his head, “I’m Detective Inspector Jim Clemo.” I think the rise and fall of his shoulders accelerates slightly. He’s listening. 

I’m investigating what went on at the canal last night. Are you feeling up to talking to me about what happened?”

No change. My gut tells me he’s not putting this on. He’s afraid. He’s either seen something or done something that’s terrified him into silence. It’s got me interested. 

“You’re not in trouble, son,” I say, even though I’m not a hundred percent sure of that. “I’m here to listen to you.” 

Nothing. I consider my options and settle on the only one that’s realistically available. 

“Abdi, I’m going to leave my card here.” I take one from my wallet. There’s no bedside table, so I pin it on the corner of a corkboard that hangs beside his bed. The board’s covered in school certificates and commendation letters. There’s also a photograph of two boys, about twelve or thirteen years old, I guess, arms slung around each other’s necks and holding a trophy between them. It’s shaped like a chess piece.

You’ll have a hard time choosing which child is the Odd Child Out in this graceful novel because Gilly Macmillan does a wonderful job of presenting both boys as characters the reader can cheer for. Their situations, their circumstances, are the real tragedy-causing elements here. With everyone caught in the crossfire, it’s fascinating to watch this story unfold. 

 

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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 MagazineShimmerSkive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

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