Rhodes, Kate - 'The Winter Foundlings'
THE WINTER FOUNDLINGS is the third book by this author and is about the kidnap and murder of children in London. Two young girls have already been kidnapped, and their bodies were found months later. One girl is still missing, when ten-year-old Ella becomes the next victim. She is waiting to be picked up from school by her grandfather, who is running late. Just as she glimpses his car arriving, she is grabbed by a man and bundled into the back of his van. There she discovers a girl in a white dress, the previous abductee, who is clearly very ill. Once they are alone in a cold dark room of some sort, she is able to explain the 'rules of behaviour' to Ella, how to act, what to say or not say, to avoid antagonising the kidnapper, and Ella starts to desperately formulate a plan to help her stay alive.
The kidnappings are being investigated by DI Don Burns. He enlists the help of a psychologist with whom he has worked before, Dr Alice Quentin. Alice has just started a new job just outside of London, in which she is to carry out an in-depth study of the regime at a secure psychiatric unit, the Laurels, run by Dr Alex Gorski. The unit houses severely deranged criminals such as the infamous Louis Kinsella, and attempts to treat them. Kinsella was the headmaster at the school where Ella was kidnapped from, and is a convicted child killer. The links with the current killings and Kinsella's earlier crimes are too strong to ignore, and Burns wants Alice to interview him to find out what he knows. Is someone following in Kinsella's footsteps, or even being coached by Kinsella, and if so how?
Alice is staying in an isolated cottage, which has failing heating, and appears to be watched by some unknown person (footprints in the snow outside). She builds an uneasy relationship with one of the staff members, a fitness instructor, but has a secret crush on Don Burns. Kinsella is a difficult man to interview, the archetypal psychopath, choosy about who he talks to and what he says. And Alice is not the only psychologist engaged by the police. Alan Nash, who originally was successful in persuading Kinsella to confess his crimes, is also on board, has a big ego, and a clash is inevitable. Meanwhile, time is running out for Ella. Interspersed chapters chart her experiences with the kidnapper, and how she uses her intelligence to build a relationship with him in a desperate bid to survive. But Alice is driven to help, to make sure Ella doesn't suffer the same fate as all the other kidnapped girls.
In some ways, this was an interesting story, which nicely managed to slowly increase the tension as the plot developed. Alice is clever, attractive, strong yet vulnerable character, and the kidnap victim Ella is well portrayed. But overall, disappointingly, it all feels somewhat clichéd and predictable. I could guess how things were likely to play out early on, and there were few if any real surprises or novel insights into the psychopathic murders. An easy read, but I would have preferred a few more plot twists to keep my interest up.
Michelle Peckham, England