Blog Tour/Book Review: The Vanished Child by M. J. Lee

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Having really enjoyed The Somme Legacy, one of the previous books in M. J. Lee’s Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mysteries series, I was delighted to get an invitation from Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources to join the blog tour for the latest outing for genealogical investigator Jayne Sinclair – The Vanished Child.  You can read my review below.

Do be sure to check out the tour banner at the bottom of this post to see all the other fabulous book bloggers taking part in the tour and to find more reviews, extracts and other content about the book.

The Vanished ChildAbout the Book

Every childhood lasts a lifetime.

On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and placing him in a children’s home. Seven years later she went back 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 British history. Can she find the vanished child?

Format: ebook, paperback (320 pp.)    Publisher:
Published: 23rd February 2018             Genre:  Historical Fiction, Mystery

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*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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My Review

Although this is the fourth book in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, it can definitely be read as a standalone novel.  However, I certainly intend to read the other books in the series I’ve not yet read – The Irish Inheritance and The American Candidate.

The book is split between Jayne’s investigations in the present day and the experiences of Harry, the ‘vanished child’ of the title, as a young boy in the 1950s.  Let’s deal with the modern day element first.  As someone who has done a little bit of research into their own family tree, I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of Jayne’s research.  It’s a mixture of patient searching through online records, keeping an open mind, experience gained in previous cases, the tenacity that propelled her through a successful police career and that all-important occasional piece of luck.  Initially, Jayne comes up against a series of dead ends that cast doubt on whether the truth will ever be known.  However, when the trail leads abroad, Jayne is able to call on contacts she’s made in the genealogical investigation community to help.  This case is personal for her because it involves someone who has become very important in her father’s life.

Now let’s turn to Harry’s story.  Wow, this was an emotional read and one which left me by turns shocked and I’ll admit angry at the events depicted.   Harry’s story is a fictional version of what the book’s blurb describes as ‘one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history’.  Harry’s experiences reveal the cruelty and rigid discipline of children’s homes, many of which were run by church organisations of all religious persuasions.  I have to say it sickened me to think that those in charge seek to justify their treatment of the children in the name of religious principles.  What deity would condone the separation of children from families and a life of such mistreatment?  Amongst the many shocking facts revealed is that not all the children are orphans.  Many are merely illegitimate, a legacy of snatched moments of happiness during time of war.

If the experiences of the children in the children’s home is shocking then worse is to come in the next stage of Harry’s story and those like him caught up in the appalling policy referred to above, the precise nature of which I’m not going to reveal here.  Heartbreakingly, most of the children are unaware of just how their lives will be affected and that what awaits them is treatment that is unfeeling, sadistic and, in some cases, abusive in nature.

I’ll confess that, at times, I wondered if the story of Harry and the real life children he represents was suitable material for a mystery intended to be entertainment.  However, I concluded that I might not have been drawn to read a non-fiction book on the subject and that, through the story of one small boy, The Vanished Child skilfully shines a light on an issue that deserves to be known about, much as the film Spotlight shone a light on abuse in the Catholic Church.

In case you are thinking this book sounds simply too depressing for you, let me reassure you there are uplifting moments that will restore your faith in human nature.  For example, the children are pathetically grateful for the small acts of kindness from ordinary people they encounter.  Certainly more mercy is shown by these people than the so-called Sisters of Mercy who run the children’s home.   Harry and the other children are amazingly resilient and form a close bond that sees them look out for one another as best they can.   Is there a happy ending?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The Vanished Child is a journey into the depths of human cruelty but also a thought-provoking and inspirational story about the importance of identity, family and belonging.

[Spoiler Alert] If you decide to read the book and want to find out more about the real-life experiences of children like Harry, visit the website of The Child Migrants Trust, a registered charity which supports those affected.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and Rachel’s Random Resources, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Thought-provoking, emotional, compelling

Try something similar…The Somme Legacy by M. J. Lee (read my review here)

leeAbout the Author

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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