On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placing him in a children’s home. She returned later but he had vanished.
What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go?
Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets and one of the most shameful episodes in recent history as she attempts to uncover the truth.
Can she find the vanished child?
This book is the fourth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, but can be read as a standalone novel.
Every childhood lasts a lifetime.
A few years ago, I signed up on a whim to one of those find your family history websites, and promptly fell down a rabbit warren of censuses and war records, labourers and cotton mill workers, emerging, slightly dazed and with a lot of new, if not especially earth-shattering, information several hours later.
I haven’t as yet pursued the interest further, but I can definitely see the attraction, so that aspect of this story appealed to me right away - even more so when I realised that, like me, the characters originate from Lancashire mill towns.
However as well as a genealogical mystery it’s also a moving and emotional (and harrowing, and rage-inducing) story which shines a light on a shameful period of British history; when over a hundred thousand children - some as young as four - were shipped off to the then colonies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) to work as farm labourers and domestic servants.
The Vanished Child is the fourth in a series - though I haven’t read the others - featuring genealogical investigator (and ex-police officer) Jayne Sinclair. Here, Jayne undertakes an investigation on behalf of her father’s new wife, Vera. On her deathbed, Vera’s mother had expressed her regrets about the child she had unwillingly lost contact with many years earlier - the brother Vera never knew she had. Unable to forget this disclosure, Vera has to learn the truth. Digging, Jayne soon begins to uncover a heartbreaking story.
The narrative switches between Jayne’s investigations in the present day and the story from “vanished child” Harry’s viewpoint in the postwar years, and this works very effectively. I enjoyed both narratives - Harry’s story and Jayne’s investigation - very much. Harry’s was the most emotionally engaging, for obvious reasons, but I also found Jayne’s inquiries to be fascinating (I do love to dig and research, so this was up my street). Although it is horribly apparent right from the beginning that young Harry’s life, and those of his fellow child migrants, were very difficult, I longed for a happy eventual outcome for him, although we know from the start he will never be reunited with his mother.
It’s a powerful story which moved me to tears at times (particularly one moment towards the end...). Jayne is a strong and likeable protagonist and I would certainly read more books featuring her, but it was Harry who stole and broke my heart, all the more so because his story, while fictional, represents the real experience of so many children.
Many thanks to the author and Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.
Martin has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the North of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.
When he's not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.
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