Book review: No Child of Mine by Susan Lewis

What an audacious author Susan Lewis is ... unafraid to tackle head-on the most harrowing subjects, she has become one of Britain’s best-selling novelists.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 12th February 2013, 9:00 am

She has 28 books to her credit now, and each one reaches into the furthest and often darkest corners of the human psyche. With an unflinching gaze, based on her own traumatic experiences, she brings us life in all its raw intensity.

The result of such honesty, insight and understanding is a string of gripping novels that bristle with drama, complexity and heart-rending reality.

No Child Mine is a disturbing story which puts the spotlight on the evils of child abuse and neglect, an emotive theme handled here with supreme sensitivity and intelligence.

Child protection worker Alex Lake is passionately devoted to her job but she would be the first to admit that it has given her a tendency to see crimes where none are being committed.

When she visits a local park, Alex is drawn like a magnet to a beautiful little girl with an almost hypnotic quality, but she cannot shrug off the uneasy feeling that something is not quite right with the child.

The man who walks with the girl from the park doesn’t seem to belong to her and Alex fears she is witnessing an abduction.

Alex’s over-sensitivity has been fuelled by the demons in her own life. She is haunted by an horrific family incident when she was aged just three which led to her being adopted by the local rector and his wife who had their own daughter Gabby.

Despite a reasonably happy childhood at the vicarage and the love she now shares with partner Jason, Alex knows that she was always second best to Gabby and still suffers nightmares about events in her past.

And then she is assigned to a new case involving three-year-old Ottilie Wade, the withdrawn and almost mute girl who first came to her attention in the park.

Alex finds herself unable to detach from the child in the way she should. She feels an overpowering need to make a real difference in little Ottilie’s life, but no one is prepared to believe that the girl is in any danger.

Her father is a respected primary school teacher, but Alex is only too aware that attributes such as charm, sophistication and high levels of education often provide an effective mask for those with depraved intent.

In the end, Alex takes the law into her own hands, a decision that has consequences for her, her family and Ottilie, consequences that no one, least of all Alex, could have foreseen.

No Child of Mine is a hard-hitting, tear-jerking but engrossing story. Despite its grim subject matter, Lewis manages to find redemption in the most unforgiving of places and, through the healing effects of love and kindness, to offer hope for the future.

(Arrow, hardback, £6.99)