Originally published: 14 May 2020
Author: Romy Hausmann
Published by: Quercus
Length: 343 pages
Reading dates: 20-22 May 2020
In a remote windowless cabin in the woods on the German-Czech border, Lena and her children Hannah and Jonathan, live with their captor, the father. Meals, bathroom visits and study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.
One day Lena manages to flee, along with Hannah but in her panic is knocked down by a car. Soon is becomes apparent that this Lena isn’t the one who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago. But when Lena’s parents, devastated when they realise the woman in the hospital isn’t their daughter, spot Hannah, they see she is very obviously Lena’s daughter.
I picked up an early proof of Dear Child at the Quercus Word of Mouth Bestsellers Event back in October 2019. They had the proofs captured in a cage and only “released” them later in the evening and I was lucky enough to grab one. I had a feeling it was going to be an exciting read!
Told from the point of view of Lena, daughter Hannah and Lena’s father Matthias, this is one of the most exciting thrillers I have ever read. It is also very tricky to review without giving too much way.
The book begins with Lena, escaping from the cabin – we later hear she attacked the man who held her captive, leaving him for dead. When Matthias hears a woman matching Lena’s description has been found after 4825 days, he and his wife Karin, rush to her hospital bedside but they are flooded with disappointment to realise this woman is not their daughter.
Hannah meanwhile is being looked after in the hospital while her mother is being treated. It soon becomes apparent to the people looking after her that something is very wrong when Hannah says
“She wanted to kill Papa by accident,” I whisper.
Sister Ruth’s head spins around. Fright, I can see it quite clearly. I shake my head, grab her face and turn it back into the right position for the secrets funnel. “You don’t have to tell the police. Jonathan is taking care of the stains on the carpet.”
I didn’t guess any of the plot. Lena’s captivity is frightening and the children are just plain creepy. Having been born in captivity, they have always understood and obeyed the rules. The children are placed in a psychiatric unit for observation and treatment. We don’t hear much from Jonathan but he is disturbed by events and being away from the cabin for the first time in his life. But Hannah is strangely calm and matter of fact about her transition to normal life and not at all traumatised by seeing what happened to her father or mother.
I cannot imagine what Lena’s parents went through having lost their daughter and to have had no idea what happened to her…to have the hope she has been found and to have that taken away again. Matthias is understandably obsessed with having Hannah, who bares an unmistakable resemblance to Lena, back in their lives.
A bestseller in Germany where it sold 250,000 copies this is an excellent translation. Tightly plotted with short, snappy chapters, this kept me on the edge of my seat. This really deserves to be one of those books that everyone wants to read – a compelling and exciting psychological thriller.
About the author:
Romy Hausmann was born in the former GDR in 1981. At the age of twenty-four she became chief editor at a film production company in Munich. Since the birth of her son she has been working as a freelancer in TV. Dear Child is her thriller debut. Romy Hausmann lives with her family in a remote house in the woods near Stuttgart.