Author of the Month

Name: Rene Denfeld

First Novel: The Enchanted

Most Recent Book: The Child Finder

'The Child Finder’ is a remarkable and emotional novel...'

Naomi Cottle finds missing children. When the police have given up their search and an investigation stalls, families call her. She possesses a rare, intuitive sense, born out of her own experience, that allows her to succeed when others have failed.

Young Madison Culver has been missing for three years. She vanished on a family trip to the mountainous forests of Oregon, where they'd gone to cut down a tree for Christmas. Soon after she disappeared, blizzards swept the region and the authorities presumed she died from exposure.

But Naomi knows that Madison isn't dead. As she relentlessly pursues the truth behind Madison's disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce defences that have protected her for so long. If she finds this child, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

‘The Child Finder’ is a highly emotionally charged novel. Denfeld deals with the delicate situation of the disappearance of a child with delicacy and care. Never during her novel does the situation feel sensationalised purely to keep the plot moving. This book is not an easy read due to the subject matter, however it is definitely one that grips like a vicious snow storm, blinding you to the path Denfeld leads you down.

There are poetical moments in the book as Denfeld weaves faery tales with reality purely to make what is happening slightly removed as the ‘snow girl’ deals with the volatile situation she finds herself in. The author sets the scene perfectly, with the snow becoming almost like a cast of the characters and the snow child having an ethereal feel to proceedings.

The most poignant part relates to the child finder herself, Naomi Cottle who has large parts of her childhood missing before she found refuge with Mrs Cottle and Jerome. This fragile threesome is dealt with subtlety, Naomi feeling torn between wanting to show her emotions, but too damaged to give them free rein.

Denfeld is credited with working with death row inmates as an investigator and as a foster mum, meaning the subject matter of her book plays to her strengths with her depth of knowledge and experience. This is a difficult review to write as to even suggest anything would give away Denfeld’s beautifully crafted novel. All I will say is that Denfeld’s sleight of hand is breath-taking and heart-breaking in equal measure and shows how the cycle of damage to the innocent can affect everyone. ‘The Child Finder’ is a remarkable and emotional novel that will have you thinking about it long after turning the last page.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) In your novel, the snow in and around the Shookum National Forest feels like an ethereal character, almost cognisant. Was this deliberate?
That’s a lovely question! Yes, it was. Nature plays such a vivid role in the novel. I wanted to highlight the unforgiving yet kind aspect of nature, the beauty and the wildness as well as its changing permanence. In a way, nature is like mankind—it is another character in our lives.
2) Naomi is the ‘child finder’, who herself has a previous life which is mainly hidden to her own mind and some is revealed in your novel. Are we going to find out more in future about Naomi?
I hope so! I really love Naomi. She’s a fascinating person, strong and yet vulnerable. It’s nice to write a strong woman character. Naomi turns the tropes about trauma on their head—she refuses to feel damaged, and yet she owns her own hurts. People are so wonderfully complicated and interesting. I don’t see people in terms of good and bad, but rather, fascinatingly different.
3) You weave faery tales in amongst the narrative of an abducted child; some of the tales in their original form were quite gruesome. How did their involvement develop the story for you?
The faery tales were such an important part of the story. They are how the girl survives—through her imagination. I think imagination is an under-appreciated form of resiliency, and faery tales capture this perfectly. Think about it. In what other story form do people survive horrific circumstances? They are shoved in ovens, trapped in towers, poisoned by malevolence. Yet they survive, often with the help of others, or their own ingenuity.
4) The trinity of Naomi, Jerome and Mrs Cottle is touching and sad in equal measures. Did you use your personal experience as a foster mother to bring the dynamics of these three alive on the page?
Yes! I’ve been a foster adoptive mom now for twenty years. I wanted to show the loving realities. Too often us foster parents and our foster kids get demonized in the media. But lots of us are good people, and the kids are always deserving of a loving home. It has been the most rewarding journey of my life.
5) As an investigator yourself, have you been involved in child disappearance cases? If so, did this experience help to bring such a vivid desperation of the parents to your novel?
I’ve worked hundreds of cases over the years, from death row cases to sex trafficking cases. It was fun to take the reader into a real life investigation: the nuts and bolts of the work, the shoe leather aspect of it. In my experience a successful investigation is 90% diligence and hard work. Yes, there are skills we learn, but most the time it is about finding people - even way out the woods. The desperation of the parents in ‘The Child Finder’ was easy for me to imagine, because I’m a mother as well as investigator. I can imagine the terror of losing your child. I have held the hands of many grieving victims in my work, and so the pain is real for me.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I am a voracious reader. I think the secret to good writing is good reading! I can knock off a book a day, easily. For crime fiction, I love the old hardboiled stuff. The late Charles Willeford has to be one of my favorites. I love all his work. I adore Donald Ray Pollock, too. Check out his new book, ‘Heavenly Table’. Right now I’m smitten with Melanie McGrath and Gilly Macmillan too. That’s four—sorry!!

Rene Denfeld (c) Gary Norman