Book Review: The Final Child by Fran Dorricott
The Final Child by Fran Dorricott is a stunning psychological thriller where the victim of a childhood kidnapping teams up with a former journalist whose cousins were also kidnapped in a powerful tale of a survivor being forced to confront her painful past.
Over 20 years ago, a serial kidnapper known as “The Father” terrorized the British Midlands, stealing pairs of children from their beds. Occasionally, the body of one or another child would show up, but it was as if the rest disappeared without a trace. In October of 1998, 9-year-old Alex and 7-year-old Jillian Chambers were taken from the bedroom they shared. Almost three weeks later, a bruised and bloodied Jillian stumbled out of the Moorlands woodland, alone and with little memory of her ordeal. She would be the final child taken by The Father.
Two decades on and Jillian, now going by Erin, lives in loneliness, running away from anything that connects her with that terrible time. With the exception of her relationship with her mother, Erin wants nothing to do with the past, hating not only her status as victim but also as lone survivor. She feels like she should remember what happened, that she should have somehow been able to break the case open and bring her brother home as well as help the families of the other kidnapped children finally find some closure. At least some of her tension has eased in one respect, however:
When year after year followed with no new abductions, no mention of The Father, I convinced myself finally that I was safe. He was gone.
Then there came a day where I had a realisation, like the cementing of an idea that had been growing for some time. He was dead. He must be. I could never explain the certainty I felt, waking up one morning and realising I had slept without nightmares, realising that I hadn’t thought about Alex in a few days without flinching. It had been like an awakening. The Father must be dead because it was as if the spell he had cast was broken.
But now, here comes Harriet Murphy asking questions and bringing up the past once more. A former journalist and wannabe writer, her interest in the case is personal. Her cousins Michael and Jeremy were the first known victims of The Father four years before Erin’s abduction. While both her cousins’ corpses were found that same year, the pain has never fully gone away for anyone in their family.
Harriet has tried to write about the abductions off and on for years, but a conversation with her aunt and the discovery of a seemingly unrelated newspaper article spurs her to consider a new angle. What if Michael and Jeremy weren’t the first? What if there’d been a trial run, with different victims and a whole new set of witnesses to interview? The police aren’t terribly interested in her theories, but when her investigations cause her to cross paths with Erin, the women discover a greater bond than either anticipated. And that’s even before a fresh wave of murders begins.
Fran Dorricott’s sophomore novel expands on the themes of her debut, After the Eclipse—where another young woman dealt with the overwhelming guilt of losing a sibling to a kidnapper—while examining fascinating new psychological aspects of being a survivor and processing grief. Told from the perspectives of both Erin and Harriet, the tension between them is ratcheted up as Erin angrily defends her inability to revisit the home from which she was abducted by trying to turn the tables on Harriet’s family.
“Do they still live there, then?” I snapped. “Do they feel happy there in that house?”
“Yes, actually,” Harriet shrugged. “I think they like knowing that they’ve got all of their memories, still. And Jem and Mikey’s favourite places. The tree out front they used to climb, the fountain in the garden they used to throw tennis balls into. It makes them—all of us, really—feel close to them… It’s how we dealt with it, I guess.”
“That’s not how my parents dealt with it,” I said. “We stayed in the house for a while. Until we could afford to move. I hated it. Hated that bedroom. I had nightmares—every night. I fell asleep in the bathroom a lot. When we moved it was better. Like a fresh start.”
The emphasis on there being no one correct way to deal with trauma is refreshing, even as the physical tension of Erin and Harriet’s showdown with a deranged killer ramps up the emotional stakes for readers. The kidnapping/murder plots are satisfyingly twisty as Ms. Dorricott works her grand reveals, ultimately delivering an emotionally devastating thriller.