Another Australian crime debut, The Nowhere Child sees Christian White spreading his intrigue across two continents: Australia and North America. The small town this time around is in Kentucky, which is already a point of difference; Nowhere Child is a mildly intriguing piece that makes up in craft what it lacks in event.
Melbourne based photographer Kimberley Leamy is confronted by a man from Manson, Kentucky, who is convinced that she is his sister, abducted 26 years ago. Kimberley follows her alleged brother to Manson to discover what happened to Sammy Went, as the narrative takes the reader into the past in alternating chapters.
The Nowhere Child is the sort of novel that putters along agreeably, until you realise that not a lot has happened and that you don’t have that many pages left. White dovetails his storylines nicely for his reveals and sails the book to its ending, where things are neat without being convenient.
The Nowhere Child isn’t exactly thrilling, but White does well at building his cast and explaining the makeup of the societies that they bestride. The Went family is a heterogenous tribe and their motivations vary, while Kimberley is more curious than passive, a must in a novel where the narrator herself is the mystery.
The blurb mentions White’s world building debt to Stephen King — and Pet Sematary is name checked on the very first page — but White doesn’t really have the capsule biography style that King brings to his small towns. This is not a weakness, but it’s not an apt point of comparison. White thanks King’s On Writing in his acknowledgements, but there’s no detectable debt here.
Christian White, far from his days editing pornography (a notable occupation, as it is there he met his wife), has pushed out a quietly confident crime novel. The Nowhere Child lacks a lot of the ingredients specific to the Australian moment, but it doesn’t miss them. The Nowhere Child is, like the titular girl, its own thing.
Featured image adapted from this article about a church that’s not allowed to be converted into a brothel.