Child Taken by Darren Young
I write this, as I have just finished Child Taken and I have to say as a debut novel, it is amazing! It’s very in-depth and detailed and has kept me hooked all day, as I sat in the garden reading. I firmly believe that Darren Young is a promising new talent to the crime fiction genre and can’t wait to get my hands on his next novel. Hugely recommend to fellow readers!
The novel opens 20 years previously, almost like a confessional, we hear from the mother of the kidnapped girl and the ‘father’ who was complicit in her abduction. I found the various perspectives and characters fascinating. I was totally immersed in this story as it unravelled. We learn that one sunny day, as children played on the beach. One went missing and never returned! The missing child was Jessica Preston, who at just under 3 years old, has never been seen since! What happened that day at the beach?
In the present day, we meet Danni Edwards, a young woman coming to terms with the repercussions of the loss of her mother. Danni’s mum died in a car accident during a storm. But Danni begins to suspect that there is something much more sinister about it. Was a suicide attempt? Or somebody seeking vengeance upon the family? Danni is a very likeable and relatable character. The grief she feels for the loss of her mother, I found very accurate and incredibly moving. I lost my mother when I was 21yrs old, so I felt every word of her pain and suffering, through the pages.
We also meet, Laura Grainger, an ambitious journalist at The Gazette. Laura is not like Danni at all, she has the perfect middle class parents and cosy life. However, shunned by her work colleagues and with low self-esteem, due to her father acquiring the job for her. She is determined to find that one case, that will catapult her career to success. Through a twist of events, her attention becomes focused on the cold case of Jessica Preston’s abduction and she endeavours to interview Jessica’s mother Sandra…………
Sandra currently resides at High Cliffs House, a private mental health unit. She spends her days staring out of the window, lost within her grief. The anguish of Sandra’s life and the aftermath of the abduction and its impact on Jessica’s family is fully explained and it makes for heart-breaking reading. She firmly believes an abduction took place and that Jessica is still alive and hopes to someday reconnect with her. Although no-one believes Sandra, we the reader come to know, Sandra lost everything that sunny afternoon, her daughter was taken………
The case heats up when Laura finds an eye witness from the past. When it turns out to be ‘mad Mo’ a local mumbling drunk, she feels defeated by this complex mystery. That is until she crosses paths with Danni. Laura and Danni form a friendship over a shared interest in the abduction of Jessica Preston. Both women have differing motives, will they ever solve what happened that day on the beach? Who took Jessica Preston? Where is she now?
This is a very impressive debut novel, with emotive themes surrounding the aftermath of a child abduction case. I would recommend to all fans of the crime fiction genre and I can easily see Darren Young becoming a star in the genre in the future! 5*
Q) for the readers, can you give a summary of yourself and your debut novel Child Taken?
A) I’m Darren Young, aged 45 from Nottingham now, although I was born in the West Midlands.
My background is in financial services and I’ve been a customer service consultant for the last twelve years. I started writing shortly after my fortieth birthday and had the idea for Child Taken towards the end of 2014. This is my first book (currently working on a second one!) and is about what happens twenty years after a girl is taken from a beach. It tracks the lives of everyone involved, looking at the events and repercussions from a number of perspectives as they get closer to the truth about what really happened.
Q) The novel centres around the aftermath of a child abduction. What was the research for this and did any real life cases generate the inspiration behind the novel?
A) I did a lot of research in the early days into missing children and what I found was mostly numbers and many of them were quite disturbing (in the UK and worldwide). Child abduction by a stranger is very rare but still happens about 50 times per year but very few are successfully carried out. The story Child Taken was actually inspired by a news report about a young man in Cyprus (I think) that was taken for DNA tests because it was suspected that he might be Ben Needham (who disappeared from Kos in 1991). He wasn’t but hearing this got me thinking about what happened to all the people involved twenty odd years later and how had it effected them.
A case from 1971 in Australia involving a little girl (Cheryl Grimer) who was taken from a beach was a key part of my research and learning about what such a crime does to the people and local community. Cheryl’s story, like Ben’s, have been back in the news in the past 12 months but at the time I started writing, they had been dormant for years which formed the background to how Sandra Preston felt in the book.
Q) Within the novel the pain and anguish of the mother is fully explored. Something I feel may not always be seen in real life cases and the families can become forgotten, as the nation becomes obsessed with the case. Was it always your intention to make Sandra a huge part of the novel?
A) Interestingly, not as big a part as she ended up having. In the original draft, she was part of the story but only when she met with the journalist but an editor who I asked for feedback said she was such a powerful character, I should give her far more pages and that’s what happened. I can’t imagine the book without Sandra’s contribution now and I agree, the family and often the mother can be overlooked in these cases. My own opinion is that as society rushes to blame someone so quickly, they forget that everyone involved is a person with their own feelings and story to tell. I read an article on Madeline McCann this week where the people of the town said they felt very sorry for the child but no one really mentioned her mother (or wider family) at all.
Q) The abduction takes place at the beach, one sunny afternoon. I live right by the coast and spend many sunny afternoons down at the bay with my sons. I always think there is something eerie about an abduction (a parent’s worst nightmare) taking place, in a place of so much childhood happiness. For example, the beach, fun fair, football game, local park etc. What made you decide to set the abduction at the beach?
A) Good question. I’d not thought about it until you asked and the honest answer is that it was always a beach in my head and I had no reason to change it. On hearing the radio news report about the DNA test, I had the whole story for Child Taken in my head a few hours later and the abduction never changed – not even one line – from how I envisaged it. I suppose, subconsciously, that I wanted the abductor to almost stumble upon Jessica rather than go out of the way to look for her and a beach is a place where this can happen. I’ve also seen, and experienced, several incidents where children have gone missing (only for a few seconds or minutes) on a beach so I had a frame of reference.
Q) What are your favourite novels in the crime fiction genre? And recommended reads from 2017?
A) It feels like a million years since I read anything properly because I find it quite distracting when I’m writing. I’m a big fan of anything by Mark Billingham, Simon Kernick, Peter James and David Baldacci because they are the books I read all the time before Child Taken took over my life. I also really liked a book, Eeny Meeny by MJ Arlidge which was a big inspiration for the way I structured Child Taken and of course, I’ve read Gone Girl and Girl on the Train more recently because they were such big hits as I was writing Child Taken. But I owe a huge debt to a little known book called Manslaughter United by Chris Hulme which was presented in such a way that, to this day, I still borrow from it.
Q) This is a question I am dying to know the answer too. What’s your next plans in your writing career?
A) Before I started Child Taken, I had an idea that I had begun working on but the idea for Child Taken got in the way so I put it on the back burner and I’ve gone back to it now. I felt that if I was going to get noticed, Child Taken was my best bet. I don’t want to give too much away but the next book is similar in style to this one but follows a man whose wife needs an urgent heart transplant and he literally does anything to get it for her despite the dubious motives of those he places his trust in. This year is the 50th anniversary of the first such transplant so it feels like nice timing and it’s a fascinating subject now I’ve researched it properly. Plus you don’t get that many heart transplant stories! I don’t have a name yet that I’m 100% happy with – but if Child Taken is a big success, I might let readers pick one on a Twitter poll.
*Huge thanks for agreeing to be part of a Q&A on my blog. I wish you every success with the release of Child Taken and your future writing career.
Thank you for your fantastic review and Q&A too. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the answers and sharing some of the thoughts I had during the writing of Child Taken. I’m really glad you enjoyed it so much and the feedback and interest you’ve shown in it makes it all worthwhile.
Child taken is released tomorrow (18th May) in both Ebook and paperback. It is available for pre-order. It is also available free to Kindle Unlimited members. 🙂