Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

9780751567397When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, his daughter, Helena, tracks her father through the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan while reflecting upon her childhood as his prisoner. Pitched as a breathless race-against time to stop the Marsh King from reaching her family, The Marsh King’s Daughter is less of a pulse-pounding thriller and more of a coming-of-age tale, with the bulk of the story comprised of flashbacks to Helena’s youth. Trouble is, though fascinating and insightful, these flashbacks serve onto to derail the momentum of the chase, the result of which is an enjoyable, if somewhat uneven novel.

Born and raised in a swamp, Helena had no idea that she and her mother were captives until they were rescued. Trained to trap, hunt and kill, Helena and her mother’s rescue plucked her from anomalous existence to another: a foreign world of electronic gadgets, the internet, and a population grossly enamoured in the goings-on of celebrities. She isn’t comfortable in this world; misses the solitude of the wilderness. Meeting her husband, Stephen, eased the transition; so too the birth of her daughters, which focuses Helena, gives her a purpose, makes her something other than merely a survivor. She’s never told Stephen about her past; lied from the beginning, wanting to separate herself from the past. So when when notorious kidnapper, rapist, and murderer Jacob Holbrook escapes police custody thirteen years after she helped put him away, not only does Helena worry for the safety of her children, the sanctity of her marriage is also under threat.

Conceptually, there’s a lot to love about The Marsh King’s Daughter. Who better to track the Marsh King than his daughter, who learned everything from him? And initially, as the narrative flits between past and present, the pages almost turn themselves, Karen Dionne superbly ratcheting the tension. But just when the novel should be shifting gears, propelling readers to its climax, the novel stalls; more flashbacks, more backstory. It’s all interesting stuff, but it dampens the intensity of the chase, and the confrontation between father and daughter. Helena’s conflicted feelings towards Jacob — part love, part hate — make for fascinating reading, but strip the Marsh King of his ferocity. The more light you shine on a monster, the less frightening he is. They hunt in the dark for a reason.

Its unevenness aside, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a propulsive read. It’s a fine character-driven psychological thriller for readers who’ve grown tired of such novels set in the suburbs, and looking for a fresh landscape to explore.

ISBN: 9780751567397
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Sphere
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 13-Jun-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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