Published: September 5, 2017
This is hands down one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. Rene Denfeld is a child of a difficult upbringing who has worked as a private investor helping sex trafficking victims and innocents in prisons. Denfeld talks about her childhood and family life eloquently in The Other Side of Loss. She, like the main character Naomi, has lived a life trying to help others that have suffered like herself. With this background and incredible talent, she is able to create such complete characters that make sense to the reader. So much of the time when I read thrillers, I don’t fully believe in the characters. Here, the author, invests energy into explaining why the “bad guys” became this way, so there is a degree of empathy the reader feels as they begin to understand why characters might be behaving the way they do. She also invests energy into explaining various actions that may seem incongruous on the part of the victims.
In this thriller of kidnapping and missing children, there are multiple mysteries to be solved. “The Child Finder, ” Naomi Cuttle, works as a private investigator finding missing children, dead or alive. It is her life’s work and passion, even though she has not yet faced the mystery of her own childhood kidnapping. Naomi Cuttle is raised by a foster mother from the age of 9 along with her foster brother, Jerome. She has few friends, devotes her life to her work and wakes up in the middle of the night with nightmares from her forgotten past. The novel is sometimes from Naomi’s point of view and sometimes from the perspective of Madison Culver, a missing child taken at the age of 5 three years ago. Naomi is investigating this case alongside of another one. Madison’s family had travelled to get a Christmas tree deep into the Skookim National Forest and Madison had gone missing, presumed dead by the local police. She had in fact been taken prisoner on the brink of death by cold exposure by a man who had been taken prisoner himself many years before, the cycle of abuse continuing. Madison is able to protect herself by hiding her identity inside a fairy tale, creating a story for herself to feel love and make peace with her situation. She becomes “Snowgirl,” a character from a favorite Russian fairy tale of a girl brought to life by the man who creates her.
There is a secondary mystery that Naomi is trying to solve, one that brings up many issues of the justice system and of inequality. The second case demonstrates the unfortunate culmination of many of these missing children cases.
Rene Denfeld is a masterful story teller. She describes the Oregon scenery with such beauty and attention to detail. She creates characters that come alive for the reader, that feel real and true. The mysteries unravel at a steady pace, leaving the reader with hope for a good outcome in the end. Although the subject matter is heavy and gruesome, Rene Denfeld finds beauty in darkness and gives hope to some of the bleakest of situations. In this lovely novel, the human spirit triumphs over dark and evil.
- Why do you think Naomi has repressed her childhood prior to living with Mrs. Cottle?
- What strategies do victims of kidnapping and abuse use to help them survive terror, mentally, physically and emotionally?
- Discuss how abuse cycles in subsequent generations.
- The autistic mother of the missing daughter is charged with a crime against her daughter. How much of a role does race play in the delay of her autism diagnosis as well as the decision to prosecute her?
- What factors contribute to victims’ of abuse/kidnapping/sexual assault having intimate relationships in the future?
- Why do you think Naomi encourages Madison’s family to move away once Madison is found?
- Discuss the two cases that Naomi takes on. What outcomes do you think are more typically experienced by PIs working these types of cases?
- What effect does a missing child often have on the marriage of the parents of that child? What can parents do to offset the chances of divorce?
- What similarities exist between Naomi’s and Madison’s captivity?
- Why does Mr. B become afraid of being found and discovering another world?