Book Review: A Child Lost: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel, Book #5 by Michelle Cox.
A Child Lost
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel, Book #5
By Michelle Cox
A spiritualist, an insane asylum, a lost little girl . . . When Clive, anxious to distract a depressed Henrietta, begs Sergeant Frank Davis for a case, he is assigned to investigating a seemingly boring affair: a spiritualist woman operating in an abandoned schoolhouse on the edge of town who is suspected of robbing people of their valuables. What begins as an open and shut case becomes more complicated, however, when Henrietta—much to Clive’s dismay—begins to believe the spiritualist's strange ramblings. Meanwhile, Elsie begs Clive and Henrietta to help her and the object of her budding love, Gunther, locate the whereabouts of one Liesel Klinkhammer, the German woman Gunther has traveled to America to find and the mother of the little girl, Anna, whom he has brought along with him. The search leads them to Dunning Asylum, where they discover some terrible truths about Liesel. When the child, Anna, is herself mistakenly admitted to the asylum after an epileptic fit, Clive and Henrietta return to Dunning to retrieve her. This time, however, Henrietta begins to suspect that something darker may be happening. When Clive doesn’t believe her, she decides to take matters into her own hands . . . with horrifying results.
"We need to find her, you see," Elsie rushed on. "This Liesel. So we, well, I thought that maybe you and Clive could help?" Elsie's voice was getting higher and more faint as she spoke. "You know, with the new detective agency…"
Gunther Stockel had gambled everything and lost. Now he was alone in Chicago with a child that wasn't his, looking for a woman who did not want to be found.
Elsie Von Harmon was seriously considering becoming a nun, that was until she met Gunther. She cannot help but want to assist Gunther in his search to find Liesel Klinkhammer and reunite her with her child. However, time is running out, for Gunther is no longer in a position where he can take care of his charge. He has to work, and Anna is not a well child. He fears as he did back in Germany, that one day someone would take her from him for good.
Elsie is loathed to ask, but who else can she turn to but her sister? If she could convince Henrietta and her husband Clive, who runs a detective agency, to take on the case then maybe they will succeed where Gunther has failed.
However, things take a sinister turn when Henrietta discovers what really happened to Liesel Klinkhammer…
From the despair of a man who is running out of time to the discovery of a dark and dangerous truth, A Child Lost: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel Book #5 by Michelle Cox is in all ways a Historical Fiction triumph!
With an enthralling narrative that grabbed me from the opening paragraph and did not let go until that final full stop, A Child Lost: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel Book #5, is a book that appeals, impresses, appals, and fascinates in almost equal measures. There is not one dull moment in this book. Cox has penned a novel that is as impressive as it is brilliant.
There are several noteworthy characters in this story, but the one I utterly adored was Henrietta. Henrietta is this wonderfully insightful young woman who burns with a desire to find out the truth for her clients. She is a very heroic heroine who is doing a man's job in a time when a woman's place was in the home. I have to confess, I have not read the rest of the books in this series, but I got the sense that Henrietta married above her social station and therefore she is not a social butterfly, although she will willingly act the part. Instead, Henrietta wants to help people, she wants to discover the truth, and this leads to some rather rash decisions which have disastrous consequences. Of course, it also leads to a fabulous story and one I could not tear myself away from. I thought Cox's depiction of Henrietta was sublime. I loved everything about her.
Another character that captured my attention was Elsie Von Harmon. Elsie has this tremendous capacity to love, and she really brings something amazing to this tale. I could not help but like her. I thought her depiction was simply marvellous.
This novel deals with some very uncomfortable issues. The patients at The Chicago State Hospital "Dunning" Mental Asylum are being denied the right of a safe and secure hospital where they can get the treatment that they not only need, but deserve. Cox describes, with a great deal of care to the historical detail, the plight of a hospital that is woefully understaffed and does not have the capacity to cater for such a large number of patients. The nurses and doctors that are there seemingly lack any empathy, and if they did at some point sympathise with their patients, then the relentlessness of the job has unfortunately quelled any compassion for these poor unfortunate people who end up under their care. The fact that children were housed with adults and given the same treatment was genuinely shocking. Cox also portrays the very fine line between eccentricity and madness. You were called eccentric only if you could afford it — otherwise, you were just insane. I thought Cox captured the fear, the dread, the utter despondence and misery that a mental asylum such as Dunning's would have evoked. This book is not always an easy read, and there are some very distressing scenes, but the overall effect paints a candid picture of what these hospitals were, unfortunately, like.
The power the staff have over the patience at Dunning mental asylum is absolute. The image of a hospital is one where someone goes for treatment in the hope to be cured, but Dunning is the kind of hospital where one is locked away and forgotten. It is a realm beyond hope. There is no golden city waiting to be found, despite what one of the patients might say. Here, the nurses rule the world as well as the ward, and while some are disguised as Angels of Mercy, others are Angels of Death — and sometimes it is very hard to decipher between the two. The lack of understanding of mental health and indeed, epilepsy, in this era is shameful. The fact that the era saw the mentally and neurologically unwell people as burdens, as something that should be hidden from society for fear that one could catch it, is shockingly awful. The treatments that were prescribed, and carried on being prescribed for decades is disgraceful. Cox also asks her readers to consider the difference between the staff at Dunning and the patients — who is the more insane? The one who does not remember their name, or the one who no longer feels compassion? It is a sobering thought.
Asides from mental health issues, Cox also explores the devastation and grief of a miscarriage and how no one is comfortable enough to talk about it and to grieve with the woman in question. The emotional toll and the lack of sympathy is, unfortunately, an all too familiar story even in today's society where miscarriage is still a taboo subject. Likewise, Cox explores the devastating impact of domestic abuse. Both of these topics Cox has approached with a novelist's eye for the human detail, which made these scenes all the more real in the telling.
The historical detail makes this book a monumental work of scholarship. Cox must have dedicated many hours to researching this era and, in particular, some of the places that her characters visit. Her research was undoubtedly worth the effort, for this book rings loudly with historical authenticity and grace. Kudos, Ms Cox. Kudos indeed.
As I have already stated, I have not read any of the other books in A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel series, but much to my delight I did not need to. Cox gives just enough background to the characters that it is no effort for a reader to catch up.
If you enjoy your Historical Fiction to have a thriller edge, then you are going to adore A Child Lost: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel Book #5 by Michelle Cox.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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A Child Lost
Michelle Cox is the author of the multiple award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series as well as Novel Notes of Local Lore, a weekly blog dedicated to Chicagos forgotten residents. She suspects she may have once lived in the 1930s and, having yet to discover a handy time machine lying around, has resorted to writing about the era as a way of getting herself back there.
Coincidentally, her books have been praised by Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others, so she might be on to something. Unbeknownst to most, Michelle hoards board games she doesn’t have time to play and is, not surprisingly, addicted to period dramas and big band music. Also marmalade.