I stumbled on this book by accident and I am so glad I did. The fact that M J Lee created this tragic mystery based on real events is overwhelming. The Vanished Child deals with the unjust treatment of children from the British Isles who were taken to foreign countries. Harry, the primary character in this book, is so well described he practically leaps off the page.
Jayne Sinclair is a genealogist who has made a career of tracing family histories When she is approached by her stepmother, Vera, with the tale of a missing brother she is fascinated. Vera’s mother revealed a big secret to Vera on her deathbed. She told Vera she had a half-brother who had been placed in a Catholic home when he was an infant. Freda Atkins, formerly Duckworth, told Vera she had given birth during the war when she was an unmarried teenager. Vera has decided she wants to find her missing brother. Knowing Jayne’s expertise in researching information she turns to her for help.
The story that unfolds is both moving and horrifying. Harry was placed in foster care with a loving couple. The Beggs couple were willing to adopt him but Freda had every intention of reclaiming him as soon as she was financially able. She visited the little boy regularly and even maintained regular correspondence with both the nuns at St. Mary’s and the foster parents. However, when she married Vera’s father and was able to regain custody of her child she was told he had been adopted.
In reality, young Harry had been relocated to Australia with several other children from St. Mary’s as well as “orphans” from other religious houses in Britain. Although Harry’s mother was still alive and eager to bring him into her new home, he was listed as an orphan. Sent to a Boys Home in Western Australia that is run by priests, he is exposed to sub-human conditions. Fed little, worked hard, and subjected to beatings and sexual attacks, he continues to write to his mother hoping she will rescue him.
Lee’s images of the living conditions and treatment of the boys at St. Joseph’s Farm and Trade School in Bindoon, Western Australia are beyond horrifying. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. More frightening than Lee’s descriptions is the fact these are based on truth.Beginning the first chapter with the boy, Harry, barefoot, dressed in rags, and thirsty in the hot Australian sun lifting heavy rocks as he joins other boys in building a structure under the cold, watchful eyes of Father Keaney, a Catholic priest. This is only the beginning of the nightmarish life Harry has been sent to.
I found myself flying through this book, desperate for Harry’s salvation and for Vera to find her missing brother. While the characters are all fascinating, it is Harry who captured and held my attention. Lee has an uncanny ability to describe the incidents and thoughts of a small child’s experiences in language apropos of the character. It is these insights that make the story believable and compelling.
I highly recommend this well-written book to any reader who enjoys a good historical mystery based on fact. If the other Jayne Sinclair books in the series are as good I will be eagerly reading them.
What would you do if you discovered you had a brother you never knew existed?
On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placing him in a children’s home. She returned later 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 history as she attempts to uncover the truth.
Can she find the vanished child?
This book is the fourth in the Jayne Sincalir Genealogical Mystery series, but can be read as a stand alone novel.
Every childhood lasts a lifetime.
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 this family tree, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.