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The Child Finder

The Child Finder

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The Child Finder

4.5/5 (86 ratings)
259 pages
4 hours
Sep 5, 2017

Editor's Note

Christmas cold case…

A child disappeared on a family outing to pick out a Christmas tree in the remote, snowy mountains of Oregon three years ago. Now, her parents turn to a professional child finder. Investigator Naomi has a knack for finding missing children, because she was once an abducted child herself. Can Naomi’s past help her rescue little Madison before it’s too late?


A haunting, richly atmospheric, and deeply suspenseful novel from the acclaimed author of The Enchanted about an investigator who must use her unique insights to find a missing little girl.

"Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?"

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight-years-old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as "the Child Finder," Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl, too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

Told in the alternating voices of Naomi and a deeply imaginative child, The Child Finder is a breathtaking, exquisitely rendered literary page-turner about redemption, the line between reality and memories and dreams, and the human capacity to survive.

Sep 5, 2017

About the author

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, licensed investigator, and foster mother. She is the author of the novels The Butterfly Girl, The Child Finder and The Enchanted. Her novels have won numerous awards including a French Prix, and The New York Times named her a 2017 hero of the year for her justice work. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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The Child Finder - Rene Denfeld


For Ariel


The home was a small yellow cottage on an empty street. There was something dispirited about it, but Naomi was used to that. The young mother who answered the door was petite and looked much older than her age. Her face seemed strained and tired.

The child finder, she said.

They sat on a couch in an empty living room. Naomi noticed a stack of children’s books on the table next to a rocking chair. She could guarantee the child’s room would be exactly as before.

I’m sorry we didn’t hear of you sooner, the father said, rubbing his hands together from his position in an armchair near the window. We’ve tried everything. All this time—

Even a psychic, the young mother added, with a pained smile.

They say you are the best at finding missing children, the man added. I didn’t even know there were investigators who did that.

Call me Naomi, she said.

The parents took her in: sturdy build, tanned hands that looked like they knew work, long brown hair, a disarming smile. She was younger than they had expected—not out of her late twenties.

How do you know how to find them? the mother asked.

She gave that luminous smile. Because I know freedom.

The father blinked. He had read of her history.

I’d like to see her room, Naomi said after a bit, putting her coffee down.

The mother led her through the house while the father stayed in the living room. The kitchen looked sterile. An old-fashioned cookie jar sat collecting dust on its rim: the fat belly said, grandma’s cookies. Naomi wondered the last time the grandma had visited.

My husband thinks I should go back to work, the mother said.

Work is good, Naomi said gently.

I can’t, the mother said, and Naomi understood. You can’t leave your house if at any moment your child might come home.

The door opened to a room of perfect sadness. There was a twin bed, covered with a Disney quilt. A series of pictures on the wall: ducks flying. madison’s room, read the appliqué letters above the bed. There was a small bookshelf and a larger desk covered with a mess of pens and markers.

Above the desk was a reading chart from her kindergarten teacher. super reader, it said. There was a gold star for every book Madison had read that fall before she went missing.

The smell was of dust and staleness—the smell of a room that had not been occupied for years.

Naomi stepped next to the desk. Madison had been drawing. Naomi could imagine her getting up from the drawing, bolting out to the car while her dad called impatiently.

It was a picture of a Christmas tree covered with heavy red globes. A group stood next to it: a mom and a dad with a little girl and a dog. my family, the caption announced. It was the typical little-kid drawing, with large heads and stick figures. Naomi had seen dozens of these in similar bedrooms. Each time it felt like a stab wound to her heart.

She picked a wide-ruled writing journal off the desk, thumbing through the clumsy but exuberant entries decorated with crayon illustrations.

She was a good writer for her age, Naomi remarked. Most five-year-olds could barely scribble.

She’s bright, the mother responded.

Naomi went to the open closet. Inside was an array of colorful sweaters and well-washed cotton dresses. Madison liked bright colors, she could see. Naomi fingered the cuff of one of the sweaters, and then another. She frowned.

These are all frayed, she noted.

She would pick at them—all of them. Unravel the threads, the mom said. I was always trying to get her to stop.


The mother stopped.

I don’t know anymore. I would do anything—

You know she is most likely dead, Naomi said, softly. She had found it was better just to say it. Especially when so much time had passed.

The mom froze.

I don’t believe she is.

The two women faced each other. They were close to the same age, but Naomi had the bloom of health on her cheeks, while the mom looked drawn with fear.

Someone took her, the mother said, firmly.

If they did take her and we find her, she won’t come back the same. You have to know that now, Naomi said.

The woman’s lips trembled. How will she come back?

Naomi stepped forward. She came close enough that they almost touched. There was something magnificent in her gaze.

She will come back needing you.

At first Naomi didn’t think she would find it, even though she had the directions and coordinates given to her by the parents. The black road was wet with plowing, the sides pulpy with snow. On either side of her car rolled an endless vista: mountains of dark green firs capped with snow, black crags, and white frosted summits. She had been driving for hours, high into the Skookum National Forest, far away from the town. The terrain was tough, brutal. It was a wild land, full of crevasses and glacier faces.

There was a flash of yellow: tattered remains of yellow tape dangling from a tree.

Why did they stop here? It was nowhere.

Naomi stepped carefully out of her car. The air was bright and cold. She took a deep, comforting breath. She stepped inside the trees and was plunged into darkness. Her boots crunched on the snow.

She imagined the family deciding to spend an entire day driving to cut down their Christmas tree. They would stop for fresh doughnuts in the hamlet of Stubbed Toe Creek. Make their way up one of the many old roads winding the snowy mountains. Find their very own special Douglas fir.

Snow and ice would have been everywhere. She could picture the mom warming her hands on the car heater, the little girl in the backseat bundled in a pink parka. The father deciding—perhaps tired of trying to decide—this was the place. Pulling over. Opening the trunk to get the handsaw, his back turned, his wife diffidently picking her way into the woods, their daughter dashing quickly ahead—

It had happened in moments, they had told her. One minute Madison Culver was there, the next she was gone. They had followed her tracks as best they could, but it had begun to snow—hard—and even as they clung to each other in terror, the tracks vanished.

By the time the search parties were called, the snow had turned into a blizzard that closed the roads. The search resumed when the roads were cleared a few weeks later. None of the locals had heard or seen anything. The next spring a cadaver dog was sent in, but came back with nothing. Madison Culver had disappeared, her body presumed buried in the snow or scavenged by animals. No one could survive for long in the woods. Especially not a five-year-old girl dressed in a pink parka.

Hope was a beautiful thing, Naomi thought, looking up through the silent trees, the clean, cold air filling her lungs. It was the most beautiful part of her work when it was rewarded with life. The worst when it brought only sorrow.

Back at her car, she pulled out some new snowshoes and her pack. She was already dressed in a warm parka, hat, and thick boots. The trunk of her car was filled with clothes and gear for searching every possible terrain, from the desert to the mountains to the cities. She kept everything she needed right there at the ready.

In town she had a room in a house owned by a dear friend. It was there she kept her files, her records, more clothes, and keepsakes. But for Naomi real life was on the road working her cases. Especially, she had found, in places like this. She had taken classes on wilderness survival, as well as search and rescue, but it was intuition that informed her. The most dangerous wilderness felt safer to Naomi than a room with a door that locked from the inside.

She started in the exact place where Madison was lost, absorbing the area. She didn’t start a formal search. Instead she treated the area like an animal she was getting to know: feeling its body, understanding its form. This was a cold animal, an unpredictable animal, with jutting, mysterious, dangerous parts.

Just a few feet into the trees the road disappeared behind her, and if not for the compass in her pocket and the tracks behind her, Naomi might have lost all sense of direction. The tall firs wove a canopy above her, almost obliterating the sky. Here and there the sun slanted through the trees, sending shafts of light to the ground. She could see how easily it would be to get turned around, lost. She had read of people dying in this wilderness less than half a mile from a trail.

These were old-growth trees, and the snow-covered ground was surprisingly bare of brush. The snow was sculpted into patterns against the reddish tree trunks. The ground rose and fell around her—the child could have gone in practically endless directions, her form certain to disappear in mere moments.

Naomi always began by learning to love the world where the child went missing. It was like carefully unraveling a twisted ball of yarn. A bus stop that led to a driver that led to a basement room, carefully carpeted in soundproofing. A ditch in full flood that led to a river, where sadness awaited on the shore. Or, her most famous case, a boy gone missing eight years before, found in the school cafeteria where he had disappeared—only twenty feet below, where his captor, a night watchman, had built a secret basement lair in a supply room behind a defunct old boiler. It wasn’t until Naomi had pulled the original blueprints for the school that anyone knew the room existed.

Each missing place was a portal.

Deep into the forest the trees abruptly cleared, and Naomi was standing at the edge of a steep white ravine. At the bottom snow stared blankly back up at her. The land beyond rose into dizzying mountains. Far across the way a frozen waterfall resembled a charging lion. The trees were shrouded in white, a vision of the heavens.

It was March, she thought: still frozen up here.

Naomi imagined a five-year-old girl, lost and shivering, wandering in what must have seemed like an endless forest.

Madison Culver had been missing for three years. She would be eight years old by now—if she has survived.

On her way back down the mountain was a solitary store, so camouflaged with snow and moss she almost drove right past. It was built like a log cabin, with a ramshackle porch. strikes store, announced the faded hand-painted sign above the door.

The empty dirt parking lot was dusted with fresh snow. Naomi pulled in. She thought the store might be abandoned. But no, it was just unkempt. The door jangled behind her.

The windows were so dirty, it was perpetual dusk inside.

The old man behind the counter had a face covered in broken blue veins. His filthy cap looked glued to his sparse gray hair.

Naomi noted the dusty taxidermy heads behind him, the shells under the smeary glass counter. The aisles were set wide to accommodate snowshoes. Car parts were piled in corners; the metal shelves were packed with everything from cheap toys to dried macaroni to the manacled hands of animal traps.

It was the macaroni that caught her eye. Naomi was enough a student of life to recognize a subsistence store over a tourist stop on the road. She picked up a bag of stale nuts and a soda.

Do people still live up here? she asked, curiously.

The old man frowned suspiciously. It occurred to her it was a forest reserve. Possibly there were restrictions.

Ay-um, he said, sourly.

How do they survive?

He looked at her like she was an idiot. Huntin’, trappin’.

That’s got to be cold work up here, she said.

Everything is cold work up here.

He watched her leave, the door closing behind her.

She set up base in a small motel at the bottom of the forest range, the dead last place one could stay without pitching a tent—or digging an ice cave.

The motel had a seedy look about it. She was used to that. The lobby was crowded with frayed furniture. A group of ruddy-faced mountain climbers filled the small room, all gear and the smell of sweat.

Naomi was constantly amazed at all the little worlds that exist outside our own. Each case seemed to take her into a new land, with different cultures, heritages, and people. She had eaten fry bread on Indian reservations, spent weeks on an old slave plantation in the South, been lulled by New Orleans. But her favorite state was right here, home in prickly Oregon, where every turn of the road seemed to bring her to an entirely different vista.

On the counter was a plastic holder full of maps. She picked one up, paid for it as she checked in. In over eight years of investigations she had lost track of the number of hotel rooms.

She had started the work when she was twenty—unusually early, she knew, for an investigator. But, as she sometimes commented ruefully, she was called to it. In the beginning, working hand to mouth, Naomi had slept on the couches of the families that hired her, many of whom were too poor to pay a hotel bill. She learned eventually to charge by the case, and encouraged families to crowd-fund her efforts if needed. That way she made enough to at least afford a room.

It wasn’t the sleep she needed—she could sleep anywhere, even curled up in her car. It was the solitude. It was the chance to think.

There were over a thousand missing children reported each year in the States—a thousand ways to go missing. Many were parental kidnappings. Others were terrible accidents. Children died in abandoned freezers where they had gone to hide. They drowned in rock quarries, and got lost in the woods, just like Madison. Many were never found. About a hundred cases each year were known stranger abductions, though Naomi believed the real numbers were much higher. The abductions were her most publicized cases, but she took any missing child.

Naomi unfolded the map on the bed—and unfolded, and unfolded.

She located the spot Madison went missing and drew a tiny circle there—a circle in a sea of endless green. Her fingers traced the nearby roads, like spiders, found the distances between them too large to contemplate.

Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under the snow? Or is it possible, after three years missing, you are still alive?

That night she had supper in the diner adjacent to the motel, her eyes soaking up the locals: beefy men in lumber shirts, women made up with rainbow-sparkled eyes, a group of ornery-looking hunters. The waitress poured another cup of coffee, called her hon.

Naomi checked her cell phone. Now that she was back in Oregon she should stop by her room at her friend Diane’s house. And more importantly she should call Jerome, find time to visit him and Mrs. Cottle—the only family she could remember. It had been too long.

With the same mixture of fear and longing she always had, she thought of Jerome standing outside the farmhouse. Their last conversation had danced awfully close to something she was not prepared to confront. She put her cell phone away. She would call later.

Instead she scraped her plate—chicken-fried steak, corn, potatoes—and graciously accepted the offer of pie from the waitress.

In her dreams that night the children she had found lined up, filling an army. Just as she woke up she heard herself whispering, Take over the world.


The snow girl could remember the day she was born.

In brilliant snow she had been created—two tired arms out, like an angel—and her creator was there. His face was a halo of light.

He had lifted her, easily, over his shoulder. He had an intense, warm, comforting smell, like the inside of the earth. She could see her hands, curiously blue at the tips, as immobile as stone. Her hair swung around her face, the ends tipped with ice.

From the man’s belt slapped long fur creatures. She watched their tiny claws clutch at the empty air above the swinging white snow.

Her eyes closed as she drifted back to sleep.

When she woke it was dark, like the inside of a cave. Snow was falling outside. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. It’s funny how you can hear something as soft as falling snow.

The man was sitting in front of her. It took a moment for her feverish eyes to adjust to the dim light. There was a lamp, after all, but something was wrong with her eyes that made them see everything in a reddish blur.

She was lying in a small bed—a shelf, really, mantled with furs and blankets. The walls around her were made of mud. Branches poked out of them. The man was sitting on a wood chair woven of branches, like the kind you see in books. Like the ones a kindly grandfather might sit in, or Father Time.

She was aware that she was very sick. Her body was alive with pain, and she could feel her cheeks, hot and slippery. Spasms of fever shook her. Her toes hurt. Her fingers hurt. Her cheeks hurt. Her nose hurt.

The man piled furs on her, looking fretful and worried. He made her drink cold water. He checked her fingers. They looked all wrong, as if they had grown fat skins. He put them into his mouth to warm them.

She wanted to throw up, but even the cavern of her belly felt as cold as ice. She faded in and out, in and out.

When she awoke again the man was making her drink more water. The water tasted icy. She fell back asleep.

There was someone she needed, and in her fever she cried for her, over and over again, but the words that came from her mouth didn’t seem to excite the man. He watched her lips and got angry. He clapped his hand over her mouth. She bit him in terror. He pulled back the hand and smacked her, hard, sending her reeling. Then he left.

She tossed and turned in endless fever dreams. Her fingers swelled until they looked like funny cartoon hands, only they weren’t funny to her. The blisters opened and splashed on the blankets. She cried with pain and fear.

When the man came back she tried to talk to him, to apologize with her swollen lips. His eyes followed her lips again, and again he was mad.

She kept yelling the words, and those words were Mommy, Daddy.

He turned and left.

B, the man scrawled on a square of chalkboard. He had brought the lamp down, and the light cast shadows everywhere. The cave was bathed in yellow.

She was awake, the furs and blankets around her cradled with sweat. She could feel the snow falling outside. She stared at the man with wide eyes.

The man checked her fingers again.

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What people think about The Child Finder

86 ratings / 29 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    This novel begins with the backstory that three years earlier, 5-year-old Madison Culver had disappeared when on a family trip into Oregon’s Skookum National Forest to select a Christmas tree. Her parents have tried every avenue to find her, and now have hired Naomi Cottle. Naomi is known as “The Child Finder” - she has been in the business of looking for missing children for 8 years, since she was 20. Naomi has found over 30 kids, not all of them alive. But the Culvers, like other parents of missing children, are desperate for closure of any kind.Naomi has a sense about missing children because she used to be one herself. Most of her memories are blocked, however; just fragments come to her at night in what she calls “the big dream” and they concern only her escape from captivity at around age 9 (she doesn’t know for sure); not what preceded it. Naomi had been found naked and running by a group of migrant workers, who took her to the sheriff in Opal, Oregon. He in turn handed her over to the foster care of Mrs. Mary Cottle. Mrs. Cottle was also fostering a boy Naomi’s age, Jerome. Years later, Naomi is now dealing with the impending death of her foster mother, who nourished Naomi and Jerome, allowing them to feel relatively protected under her roof. But in fact, Naomi always felt that “[t]he most dangerous wilderness felt safer to [her] than a room with a door that locked from the other side.”She also faces increasing pressure from Jerome to confront their feelings for each other. Jerome admires Naomi’s strength, but saw her “like the wind traveling over the field, always searching, never stopping, and never knowing that true peace is when you curl around one little piece of something. One little fern. One little frond. One person to love.”Naomi is brave when it comes to her relentless search for children, but not brave enough to risk the vulnerability that comes from love.Because Naomi knows how terrifying the experience of captivity was for her - so much so that her sole awareness of it comes from vague nightmares, she is much more persistent than local authorities, who are constrained by lack of manpower and resources. And because Naomi grew up in her foster home not far from the same area as Madison Culver went missing, her dreams begin to have more detail. She understands that she might actually find out what happened to her.Chapters narrated by Naomi alternate with those by Madison, who thinks of herself as “The Snow Queen” after a fairy tale she heard when she was little. Like Naomi, her time in the past - as Madison - only comes to her in dreams, or in the form of stories in her head that she doesn’t think are true. She is held by a person she only knows as “Mr. B.,” who eventually takes over some of the narration as well.Good pacing and lots of tension build up to the denouement and the eventual outcome, which is never a sure thing.Discussion: While there are elements of very distasteful psychological, physical, and sexual abuse in this book, the author does her best to limit depictions of unpleasantness to the dream-like language and level of understanding of a young child. On the author’s website, we learn that she works with sex trafficking victims and also has been a foster adoptive parent herself for traumatized children. Clearly she knows of what she writes.  Evaluation: This well-written and absorbing psychological thriller is apt to keep you up at night.
  • (3/5)
    A woman who searches for missing children hides a past she doesn't even remember or doesn't want to remember is the child finder. She is searching for a little girl who has been missing in the wilderness for several years. Summer read. The little girl relates her life now and the hunter runs from her own past.
  • (4/5)
    In Rene Denfeld’s THE CHILD FINDER, Naomi is known for her ability to find children, sometimes dead but more often alive. She, herself, escaped something when she was a child, something she forgets, and was subsequently raised in a foster home, with her foster brother, Jerome.That is one of the mysteries: what does Naomi forget?The main mystery of THE CHILD FINDER, though, involves Madison, who was lost in the woods when she was 5-years-old. It is now three years later. Chapters alternate: mostly Denfeld concentrates on Naomi’s search for Madison and the present state of Madison. But two other stories are also going on: Naomi’s other job—finding a missing baby whose mother is in jail for her murder—and Naomi’s relationship with Jerome.There are some problems. Every character in this book is so one dimensional the reader never really knows any one of them, even Naomi. That means this is a plot-driven, rather than character-driven, story. Also, Madison is only 5- to 8-years-old in the chapters that describe her, yet most everything she does seems way beyond a child that young.Other than these two problems, though, THE CHILD FINDER is an engaging book. I stayed up late to finish it last night so, obviously, am glad I read it. As I understand, this is the first in a series, and I’ll be looking to finding out about her next case and whether, this time, she investigates alongside Jerome.
  • (4/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! While some of the child molestation scenes were disturbing to read, I loved the character of Naomi and was left wanting more. I was thrilled to learn that there is a sequel planned for 2019!
  • (3/5)
    A sixth sense and a highly tuned instinct are the qualities that Naomi Cottle is blessed with that allow her to find the missing children. Madison Culver has disappeared in the snowy forests of Northern Oregon when accompanying her parents in the search for the perfect Christmas tree. Naomi is determined to find Madison and in the process will encounter some painful memories from her distant pass. The snow girl is protected by Mr B and as this relationship unfolds the intention of the guardian gives the reader real cause for concern....."The day after the girl had slept in his bed for the first time, B had come back from trapping and sat on the edge of the bed...."There is a strange, almost dreamlike quality to the storytelling. The author in this detached form of communication with the reader creates a very uneasy and unsettling image of neglected and disturbed children..."it is better for a child to attach to an abuser than to experience the blind hole of neglect."... Naomi travels to the endearingly named Stubbed Toe Creek and with the help of Ranger Dave hopes to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the young Madison Culver. Is there a connection with the snow girl? Will recently realized childhood memories help Naomi in her painful search for the missing child?...."What were you running from, then? she had asked. Monsters, was all that Naomi could remember. And to this day, outside the hints in her dreams, it was all she could remember still." Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for sending me a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.
  • (5/5)
    Brilliantly crafted, gripping, moving. So very nice to read a book on this subject that is kind, and gives one hope.
  • (5/5)
    A great book about a tough subject to get right... A hero survivors can believe in
  • (3/5)
    Children are some of the most vulnerable human beings. They often go missing or disappear without a trace. Some are found, and many are not...creating loss and turmoil in homes and families that change the very core pattern of their lives. In this book we meet Naomi, a young woman known as the "child finder." She has no past she can fully remember, but she knows that she must never give up on finding those who are lost. I thought the book was hard to follow since the story was told from two voices that alternated. Also this child was portrayed as 6 years old going on 30 with understanding of things that were far beyond her mental abilities. The man was a pedophile no matter how the author painted it. The ending was wrapped up too neat and everything just went back to norm? I don't think so.
  • (4/5)
    Very entertaining suspense and seemingly the beginning of a new series. Naomi Cottle is a survivor of child kidnapping and abuse herself, although she remembers very little from before her escape at age 9. Now in her late 20s, she is known to police as "The Child Finder", having an intuitive method of following clues in child kidnappings that the police have been unable to solve. Although she sometimes finds live children and sometimes dead, she has an astonishing success rate. Naomi is asked by a rural Oregon couple to look into the three-year-long kidnapping of their 5 year old, Madison, who wandered away from the parents to explore the woods when they went Christmas tree hunting. Presumed dead from hypothernia, Madison is, however, still alive, and her story is intertwined with Naomi's search for her, making for a chilling tale of two survivors. Sexual abuse is clear here, and I did find it unsettling, especially Madison's survival response in the presence of her kidnapper. But I did like the book very much, and the sequel is already on my request list at the library.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Naomi is a young private investigator who exclusively searches for missing children. Set in the high wilderness of Oregon, the story opens with Naomi being hired by the parents of Madison, who disappeared 3 years earlier while they were out to cut a Christmas tree. The story winds around, slowly revealing Naomi's past and how she came to be in foster care with Mary Cottle and her foster brother, Jerome. She questions the motives and trustworthiness of everyone she encounters on her search for Madison. It took me awhile to understand that sections detailing Mr. B and the snow girl sequences were not Naomi's past, but Madison's experience. The author deals gently and sensitively with the horrifying topic of abducted children who are held captive and abused, both from the perspective of the children and their parents. There are references to past cases she has worked on, including a subplot of the missing child of woman with mental health issues, which exposes the scope of this problem across racial and socioeconomic groups. The writing is atmospheric with the back drop of the the snow, forest, and emerging spring in Oregon muffling some of the stark reality in the narrative. The author treats her characters with great compassion, yet holds the reader in tension as the story unfolds.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    he past number of years, the news has been filled with accounts of girls or young women kidnapped months or years before and suddenly found alive, having been kept hidden and held hostage by their kidnappers. This is the best possible outcome for kidnapped children although the lifelong emotional toll on the recovered children has to be enormous. But every parent of a taken child must be desperate for such an outcome. Rene Denfeld's novel The Child Finder introduces a character whose specialty is finding missing children, alive or dead, and this first book in a planned series starts off in a quietly spectacular manner. Naomi is special. Called "the child finder" by her clients, she specializes in finding kidnapped and missing children, never giving up and combing over scant information from every direction possible to help her figure out where the children must be. She agrees to take on the case of little Madison Culver, missing for three years, who disappeared at the age of five when in Skookum National Forest picking a Christmas tree with her family. She seemingly disappeared into thin air and no further trace of her has ever been found but her parents have refused to give up hope even as their own marriage cracks under the strain of not knowing her fate. As Naomi methodically tracks the missing girl, her own story as a missing child, one who escaped but was never reclaimed or identified, haunts her dreams. Her own trauma informs her search for Madison and her concurrent search for the missing baby of a developmentally delayed young woman who has been charged with the baby's murder.Naomi's own past, which is revealed to the reader in small pieces, informs how she goes about her work, antagonizing some people, pushing others, and only rarely opening up to anyone. She is clearly deeply affected by her own story, allowing her to connect with and have a surprising compassion for broken people even while she is uncomfortable around most folks. Interspersed with flashes of Naomi's past and her search, is a fairy tale of sorts. Calling herself the snow girl, a child tells herself the few small things she remembers of her life before being taken and what she knows and learns of the man with whom she lives. This latter piece of narration is absolutely gut wrenching for the reader but it is not horrifically graphic. Denfeld manages to create full and complex characters even in those only in the story for a brief amount of time, rounding them out as real and understandable in their motivations. Although this is billed as a thriller, because the narrative tension is steady and consistent it really isn't one. The story feels quiet, like it's muffled in the deep snow that quickly covered all traces of Madison's whereabouts when she disappeared. And although it deals with kidnapping and abuse, it somehow feels gentle and compassionate. At the end of the book, only one question remains, Naomi says that "it's never too late to be found" but will she be able to find herself over the course of the series?

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)
    The Child Finder, Rene Denfield, author; Alyssa Bresnahan, narratorFor me, this novel was really about many different kinds of loss and the many different kinds of relationships involving love or the lack of it. It is about the loss of innocence, the loss of freedom, of memory, of a body part. It is about the loss of love or the inability to understand or find it. It is about what happens when something or someone that has been lost, is found after years of searching. It is about whether or not the search and discovery are worthwhile or whether or not the results are expected. It is about how the loss is handled by those grieving and about how those lost or those suffering from the loss, eventually come to terms with their trauma and learn to survive, if they are even retrievable. Each of the characters is involved in a traumatic event involving some kind of loss. Something is missing from each of their lives.In this novel, the author tells two parallel stories. One is about Naomi Cottle and her experiences. She is a young female detective who finds missing children. She is called the “child finder”. It is fitting that she has chosen this occupation because she had been a missing child, as well, but she has no memory of her life before her escape and rescue. When she became the foster child of Mrs. Cottle, a gentle woman who had lots of love to give, she began her recovery. Mrs. Cottle was kind and helped her to find her way back to life with her tenderness and compassion. Naomi had hoped some of her memory would return, but when the story begins, it has not. She is still searching for herself, as well as for others. Is she afraid to find her past? How will she deal with it if she remembers the horror of what happened to her?The other story is about a child named Madison. Naomi has been hired by Madison Culver’s parents to try and locate her. She has been missing for three years, but her mother believes that she is still alive. Naomi takes the case but explains that she may not find Madison alive, and even if she does, she may not be the same child they lost. How a child survives from the capture and brutality may cause tremendous changes in the child. How would Madison survive?Madison disappeared in the forest while hunting for a Christmas tree with her mother and father. When she wandered away from them, they did not see her leave. She fell and was injured. Lying, almost frozen in the snow, she was found by a man who could not hear or speak. He picked her up and carried her home. In his clumsy, misguided way, he saved her life, but what kind of a life did he provide? When she regained consciousness, she discovered that she was not with her parents but with this strange man with a very fragile temperament. She learned that he was easy to anger and was a deaf mute. Her five-year old child’s mind conjured up a fantasy which enabled her to survive as the time passed. She was no longer Madison. She was “the snow child”. In her young mind, she was born of the snow like the child in her favorite Russian folk tale. She was intuitive and tried to anticipate the moods of the man who kept her locked up. She hoped to prevent him from hurting her and to encourage him to allow her out of the “cave” in which she believed she was being held prisoner.The author handles the issue of sex very delicately. She uses metaphors for subjects that are difficult for Madison’s child’s mind to understand. When she is sexually abused she thinks of the sticks in the forest, and believes the twigs are hurting her. There are other references throughout, to serpents and snakes. The author has also imbued Madison with a mind that seems far more mature than that of a child’s. Her ability to read and write, to draw pictures to explain things and her thoughtful explanations and interpretations of her situation appear to be far more adult than someone with her meager number of years. Mr. B, the man who holds Madison captive, is like a child himself, although he is grown and quite large. He has had practically no experience with the outside world. He was kidnapped as a young child and was kept in a dark, dank cellar. He was beaten severely when he angered his captor. Today, he is simply a trapper who lives in the forest. He has never learned to read or write, and he has no understanding of normal emotions, other than extreme anger. If he is found, he would be very changed. He had once been a happy seven-year old child who wasjust beginning to learn his letters and how to lip read at the time he became separated from his family. They were distracted in a store when he wandered out, unnoticed, and was carried away by a man who lived in the forest and was known only for his meanness. Unable to make a sound, Mr. B, known as Brian at that time, simply disappeared. One minute he was there, and then, he was not. Perhaps the way he treated “the snow girl” was the only way he knew how to treat someone. He learned to hunt, kill animals and trade their skins, but he never learned to love. Madison, now “the snow child”, feared he would kill her too. There is another character, fostered by the same wonderful woman, Mrs. Cottle, who cared for Naomi and helped her through her trauma. He is Jerome. Naomi and Jerome were raised together. He, though, seems to be the only completely emotionally whole victim in the story, although he might have been the most floundering because of his experiences of abuse and suffering. Mrs. Cottle helped him find a new purpose in his life. She helped him fill in his missing parts with her pure and genuine love and concern for him.The book also raises and touches on many of the progressive ideas threading through the narrative of conversation today, as well as many of the social issues concerning us. The author raises the topic of sex trafficking. She touches on mental health issues when she tells the story of a woman who is autistic whose child is missing. Through her story, she also touches on racism and the additional obstacles her family had to face because of it. With Jerome, she touches on the dangerous effects of our political policies surrounding war and those who are involved in fighting the battles. With him, she also touches on Native American fables and, once again, racism. She touches on how death enters and leaves our lives and how we deal with the effects. Some face it head on and some skirt around the idea and are in denial. When the ranger’s wife sneaks off to die quietly, alone and without fanfare, he is left behind; he is bereft and frozen in place. He wants to know if she will ever be found. Although she has found her peace, his has been disturbed. Perhaps, the novel obliquely also touches on the harmful effects of ignorance, even when it is not a choice, but is a consequence of natural events, and the beneficial effects of having faith in someone or something, other than oneself. Then, also, there is the story of a missing illegal alien. When his mother reports him missing, she is arrested, shackled and deported. His body is later found, a victim of violence. Some of these stories seemed somewhat contrived in order to promote particular political points of view. Some felt unrelated to the rest of the novel and some felt perfectly at home within the pages. The narrator read each character with a clear, definitive voice. She enhanced the novel with her interpretation of each of them.
  • (5/5)
    Wow!This book grabbed me from the start and left me stunned. I’m in admiration and I fully enjoyed the book. When I finished it was one of those what in the heck can I possibly read next books.I’m not sure why some people are talking about magical realism as being part of this book. This book is 100% realistic. 100% reality punched in the stomach, devastating, but also hopeful, and with gorgeous writing and great storytelling. It’s simultaneously brutal and beautifully poetic. Very quotable but I restrained myself from “liking” too many quotes because so many would be story spoilers. “Twigs” I will never forget the meaning of the use of that word from this story. I was so impressed with how this author completely understands dissociation and trauma. During reading this I was inspired to look up information about this author, and I really, really like her as a person, and I can see how her background and life experiences made her the perfect person to write this. She knows of what she writes. Almost all the best fictional stories have authors who do. I loved how all the characters and storylines were tied together so well. I was in awe of how from start to finish it was well written and full of brilliant storytelling. I adored it all the way through, though I did have worries I’d end up being disappointed. Thankfully, that did not happen. I liked it so much that I read until I had to stop reading, even if I was in mid-chapter. I don’t usually do that. I generally strongly prefer to stop reading at the end of chapters. I hated to stop reading, I was eager to know what would happen, and I was dreading getting to the end and have the book stop, and that is one measure of a great book. I will definitely read her other novel and maybe her three non-fiction books too, and probably any other future books.I loved the two main female characters’ voices and at first I was annoyed when certain male characters’ voices were interspersed, even though they were interesting, but it turns out all the voices were needed for the reader to fully appreciate this book. Brilliantly done! One voice in particular was painful to hear. I rebelled against it but she had me feeling sympathy for all the characters, even before the reader knows the entire story, but I was rooting completely only for some. Even the minor characters are incredibly well drawn given their parts of the story.I thought I’d guessed almost everything about the resolution but I’d say I was batting only around 67%. It was fun when I was right and equally fun when I found out something unexpected. It was challenging for me to write this review to be just an adequate review. As always, it’s hardest for me to write about books I love. I don’t think it will make my favorites list but 5 very full stars.
  • (4/5)
    Desperate to find their missing child who has been missing for three years, they entreat Naomi, a private investigator who has an uncanny knack for finding lost children...dead and alive. Naomi’s search takes her into Oregon’s Skookum National Forest in the midst of winter. A suspenseful novel where one wonders if Naomi will be able to find the girl in time.
  • (4/5)
    Naomi's first memory is as a child, running frantically through a field, escaping from captivity. No further memories emerged; nor was she ever claimed by family.As an adult she has become a private investigator dedicated to finding lost and abducted children. Her current case involves a five year old girl, lost in a snowstorm in the Oregon forest while her family was cutting a Christmas tree three years ago. Surely she couldn't have survived that storm, even though her body was never found.But other things live in the forest besides the wild animals: twisted and menacing and able to tear your heart out.I found this a well written mystery/thriller– it took off at a gallop and sucked me right in. I loved the outdoor forest setting and the RIF on the Snow Child fairy tale. I also enjoyed the secondary mystery of an infant missing from a developmentally challenged woman.There were a few minor annoyances : Dave is constantly referred to 'Ranger Dave'. I'm not sure he ever appeared without his title, although he is a major part of the story. There were also some outdoor phrases that rang oddly – example including where someone 'cached their cabin' . Since the book is about child abductions, pedophilia is a major theme and so a warning to those sensitive to this subject.Still I hope this is the beginning of a very long series. I'll be back! 4*
  • (4/5)
    The Child FinderRene DenfeldMY RATING ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️▫️PUBLISHERHarper CollinsPUBLISHEDSeptember 5, 2017A touching chronicle of a breathless search through the dark Oregon forest for a little girl who has been missing for three years. SUMMARYMadison Culver disappeared in Oregon’s snow-filled Skookum National Forest three years ago, as the family was searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Madison was just five years old. Naomi Cottle is a private investigator with a special talent for finding lost and missing children. The Culver’s are desperate and have asked Naomi for help. She is their last hope. Naomi,The Child Finder, has found thirty lost children in her brief eight-year career, but not all of them have been alive. In helping the Culver’s, Naomi is relentless in her attempts to unravel the clues to Madison disappearance. Naomi is also searching for answers to the secrets of her own fragmented childhood journey. She has dreams of running, but she doesn’t know from where or from what. All she knows, is that something is missing. REVIEWHow can a young girl of five survive in the forest? A story of missing children can be a tough topic to write about and equally disturbing to read. But Rene Denfeld did a fabulous job taking a heavy subject and presenting it in a tasteful and meaningful way. I would go so far as describing it as light and hopeful. Madison loved fairytales and in fact, much of this book is reminiscence of a fairy tale, only with a lot of reality thrown in. “You know she is most likely dead,” was one of the first things Naomi told the Culver’s as they stood in Madison’s Disney decorated bedroom. The Child Finder is gripping and intense. It is such a quick read the pages seem to turn themselves propelling you to the next part of the story. Denfeld effortlessly blends Naomi and Madison’s story, adding interest and complexity to the book. This would be a great read for a cold winter day, curled up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. The Child Finder is Denfeld’s second book and she writes in part from personal experience, she is a licensed investigator specializing in death penalty work and she has adopted three children from foster care.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I love books with dysfunctional, sometimes hard to like hero’s. Naomi is a great one.

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Somehow I managed to miss The Enchanted until it got reduced by Amazon to an affordable sale price. But my friend Tori put Rene Denfeld on my radar, so I've been following her on Facebook and anxiously awaiting the release of The Child Finder.

    I'm tempted to give this a one-word review. WOW.

    Is it a thriller? Is it a fairy tale that takes the long way around to get to the "happily ever after"? It's kind of both. It tells a horrifying story in a beautiful, poetic way. There's just enough distance between the reader and the story to keep it from being too hard to take. There were times I had to remind myself what was really happening. I don't know if I could have read this as a traditional thriller. But as whatever this is, I loved it and HIGHLY recommend.

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Five-year-old Madison Culver disappeared while on a family outing to pick out a Christmas tree in Skookum National Forest. Desperate to find their daughter, Madison’s parents engage private investigator Naomi Cottle, a woman who specializes in finding lost and missing children. Naomi, the child finder, is their last hope.Naomi, once a lost child herself, slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance. At the same time, dark dreams torment the woman, threatening to expose whatever she’s forgotten from all those years ago. Will discovering what happened to Madison help her unlock the secrets of her past?A complex plot slowly unfolds, revealing insights and more fully defining the strong, compassionate characters in this exquisite narrative. Beautifully-written, the narrative pulls readers into the telling of the tale and holds them there with poetic language, a strong sense of place, and powerful emotions. Spellbinding, atmospheric, captivating . . . this is one book readers are certain to find to be completely unputdownable.Highly recommended.

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  • (5/5)

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    Rene Denfeld's newest novel, The Child Finder, simply would not let me put it down. I was entranced from the opening pages and devoured it in a day.Naomi is a private investigator with a specialty - she finds children - lost, stolen, missing and kidnapped. The police and her clients know her as the child finder. She seems to have an uncanny ability to ferret out clues and traces of a child's passing or presence. That ability is honed from experience - she too was a lost child. She escaped, but has no memory of what came before that time.Madison Culver disappeared three years ago in Oregon's massive Skookum Forest. If still alive, she would be eight years old. Her parents hire Naomi in one last ditch effort to find her.Denfeld's thoughtful, measured prose and passages often beg to be read again and savored for their images and ideas. Naomi's thoughts and manner are also unhurried and I found my reading slowing down to match her pacing. Well, up to a certain point. Denfeld's tale is a page turner and I desperately wanted to peek ahead at the last chapters. I didn't though - it would have spoiled an absolutely thrilling tale.There is a child alive in the forest. That child has a voice in alternating chapters with Naomi. The child's chapters are heartbreaking, frightening and yet hopeful. This latest search has stirred something in Naomi's memory as well. Her nightmares and memories bring her ever closer to remembering what came before. The supporting cast including Naomi's foster brother and mother were also well drawn and the relationships between the three were so eloquently depicted.Love, loss, redemption and the power of the human spirit are all are magically woven through The Child Finder. Absolutely, positively recommended.

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    This is a phenomenal read! I was so engrossed, so lost in the story, that at times, I felt I was in the cabin, in the snow, in the book. Amazing! Naomi is the child finder, Madison is the child, and B, well, B is complicated. It's a beautifully written story, full of pain, love, and longing. And the climatic scene made me white-knuckled tense as I read it. I really loved this book!

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  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I have so many conflicting feelings about this book. On one hand, I loved the fairy tale aspect of the snow girl and the literary writing, so descriptive and vivid. On the other hand, I had a hard time relating to Naomi. I admire what she does, finding lost children, missing children, dead or alive and she is good at what she does even though she has yet to find an answer to her own mysterious past as a lost and found child. She fascinates me and I know she's a product of her past, but she just seemed so cold sometimes. And am I one of the only ones bothered by the sexual aspect of this book? I am no prude, but this is no blue lagoon; it's not two young people discovering love together - this is a man in his 50's and a young girl. Yet it's so sad, as B is a product of his past as well and seemed to care for her the only way he knew how to. Sometimes I only read for pleasure and entertainment, and I don't necessarily want to learn anything, but I found the details of life in the cold Oregon forest and mountains fascinating. It just seemed so primitive and it's hard to imagine people still living that way. I did also find that the story jumped all over, it seemed to lack storylines flowing together. For me, it was a fast read, most of it was enjoyable reading, (with a couple of exceptions), it's definitely intriguing although there are no surprises. When I finished reading it, I just had to think and let it all soak in. It's very haunting and left me a little drained and sad. For Madison and her family, for the other case worked on, for Naomi and even for B.I am curious as to if there will be a sequel; I would love to know the result of Naomi's search.

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  • (5/5)

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    I was given a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review.

    The Child Finder is beautiful prose, a step above all the other "Gone Girl" imitators that are crowding the shelves of bookstores. I liked the strong protagonist, although, to be honest, I would've liked a bit of resolution on her backstory. Her skills were believable and Denfeld developed all the secondary characters sufficiently. Highly recommended!

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  • (4/5)

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    As indicated by the title, this is the compelling story of Naomi, a victim of a violent childhood, whose goal in life is to find missing children. The object of her current search is a five-year old girl, Madison, who has gone missing in a dense forest landscape near a very small town in Oregon. This search for Madison triggers painful memories of a past she cannot remember, although she knows it involved a great loss. The story of Madison's three years in captivity is also told by Madison. This is a book that will resonate with its readers for a long time.

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  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A dark but moving novel of the horrors of child abduction present and past. The characters are very well drawn and the plot is believable. Until the end the action is primarily psychological - as is the terror. The subject material is not my favorite but the book is excellent.

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  • (5/5)

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    I read this book in one day. I simply could not put it down. Little Madison Culver disappeared three years ago while the family went into the woods to find a Christmas tree. Her mother is convinced she is still alive, despite the odds of a child surviving for even hours in the hostile woods in the winter when she disappeared. The family hires Naomi, the child finder, in their effort to get to the truth. Madison's story, intertwined with Naomi's, is remarkable. I enjoyed the unique writing style of this author as well as the amazing story line.

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  • (3/5)

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    Premise was super interesting. A person specialized in finding children, because of her own past? Sign me up. The characters, tho, felt... kinda flat, unrealistic. Super deep conversations with people the character has known for 3 days, a 5 year old acting like a 15 year old, a weird way of suddenly solving ages of trauma. Idk, I liked the book but felt a little Mary sue for me

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I don't know how Denfeld does it, but I close her books, which are filled with truly dark stuff, feeling... content and full of hope. More thoughts to come.Recommended for anyone who enjoyed the way Oyeyemi used the tales of Snow White in Boy, Snow, Bird or the way Ivey used the wilderness and snow in The Snow Child. 4.5 stars

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  • (4/5)
    I am on a roll this month. This audiobook had my walks on high intensity as I wanted to get to the end and see how things panned out. I will say Naomi got on my nerves a bit. Wanted to kick her a time or two for being so stubborn. Stories that involve child abduction/missing children always hurt my heart a bit, but it was still very enjoyable. 4?