Reviewed by Rod McLary
The title and cover of this second book by Dinuka McKenzie provides a strong clue to its story – the book’s title is superimposed on an image of a cot empty apart from an abandoned toy bear. What else can be meant but a stolen baby. However, this is not just a story of child stealing – there are complexities through this book to add considerable depth to what may have otherwise been a hackneyed tale.
Taken continues the story of Detective Sergeant Kate Miles following on from the author’s debut novel Torrent. Kate has returned to work following her recovery from being shot in the line of duty – some may say that she has returned too soon, not the least of whom is Detective Josh Ellis who was acting in her position and thrived in it. Struggling to assert herself in the face of some antagonism from Josh and to prove herself in the eyes of Chief Inspector Andrew Skinner, Kate is also contending with pressing matters at home. She has a four-month-old baby, an older son and a disgruntled partner; as well as a threatening public scandal involving her father. However, Kate is determined to prove herself and demonstrates considerable emotional strength in doing so.
Kate is called to a domestic disturbance in which Lena Chalmers has been severely assaulted by her partner Jason Veliu – a character whose violent behaviour reverberates through the book. To add to Kate’s workload, she later responds to a suspected child abduction. Elissa Ricci’s daughter has been abducted from her cot. Elissa is the ex-partner of Veliu and he was as sexually violent with her as he is now with Lena. Consequently, he is seen by some as the most likely culprit but others – including Kate – believe that attention should be directed to Elissa’s current partner Aaron. Aaron’s denial of any involvement in the abduction is not helped by his evasive responses to questions regarding his whereabouts at the key times. And thus begins a tense and thrilling crime story as Kate and her partner struggle to find the child and track down the abductor. As with the best of crime writing, there are twists and turns along the way which ultimately lead to a dénouement as shocking as it is unexpected.
In crafting this crime story, the author does not shy away from confronting difficult societal issues such as family and sexual violence, sexism in the police force, and political corruption – and closer to Kate, family tensions and vexed relationships.
Set in northern New South Wales, Taken delves into the dark side of life in small country towns and the secrets which are hidden but inevitably will come out. As in all such towns, there are some shadowy connections between the characters as well as multiple strands to the plot. It is down to the skill of the author that these strands are managed so well without any confusion or loss of plot trajectory.
All in all, Taken is a fast-paced and complex crime story which has at its heart an engaging protagonist with whom many will empathise as she fights to prove herself at work and at home. Her struggles balancing family and work commitments would resonate with many readers. Taken is a book to read in one sitting – and will encourage any reader to seek out the author’s first book Torrent.
by Dinuka McKenzie
ISBN 978 146078 241 7