Review - Nowhere Girl, Ruth Dugdall
The fourth book in the series sees probation officer Cate Austin out of the familiar ground of career, single parenthood and England in a new life in Luxembourg. She's moved there, with her young daughter Amelia, to live with boyfriend and local police detective Olivier Massard. The adjustment to life in a new location, with a new language swirling around her is hard enough, but the disconnection from her career and what feels like a walk away from her own family problems, means that Austin is slightly lost and very out of sorts.
Because Austin is obviously feeling so lost and unsettled, NOWHERE GIRL telegraphs that slightly uneasy, unsure feeling right from the start of the storyline. Which makes an enormous amount of sense as feelings, intuition and discomfort are ultimately what drives a lot of characters. Starting with the disappearance of young Ellie from the local carnival, through to the odd goings on with illegal immigrant children, there is much that feels wrong, but not a lot that is obvious or overt. It makes enormous sense that an outsider sees the odd hints and clues, when their senses are in overdrive anyway, the desire to understand and fit in overwhelming, and that outsider has a criminal justice system background attuned to understanding the psychology of offenders, rather than just catching them.
Because Austin is such a fish out of water in NOWHERE GIRL it's not exactly comfort zone reading. There's something off-putting about just about everything in this novel. Everyone seems to have some sort of personal agenda, everyone, even Massard and the missing girl's own parents seem vaguely sinister at times. The plot is cleverly constructed with sufficient grey in everyone - including the villains to make you think, stop and consider why it is that this is such a discomforting ride. Perhaps the only aspect that is a little sketchy, and might work better with prior knowledge is Austin's own father's trial, and her difficult relationship with her own mother and sister. Aside from that, it is the sort of novel that could work as a standalone - there's enough of Austin's background telegraphed to allow new readers to understand where she's coming from, and enough of the personal story to see where she's probably going.
Add to the good plot a series of excellent characterisations - not all of whom, even Austin, are always likeable, but all of whom are interesting and flawed - good and bad, and you're reminded of how strong series this is. Which means this reader is kicking herself hard over somehow missing book three. Must rectify that error as soon as possible.
When Ellie goes missing on the first day of Schueberfouer, the police are dismissive, keen not to attract negative attention on one of Luxembourg’s most important events.
Probation officer, Cate Austin, has moved for a fresh start, along with her daughter Amelia, to live with her police detective boyfriend, Olivier Massard. But when she realises just how casually he is taking the disappearance of Ellie, Cate decides to investigate matters for herself.
She discovers Luxembourg has a dark heart. With its geographical position, could it be the centre of a child trafficking ring? As Cate comes closer to discovering Ellie’s whereabouts she uncovers a hidden world, placing herself in danger, not just from traffickers, but from a source much closer to home.