Call me what you will: a murderer, a cop killer, a fugitive, a drunk…

There’s a lot people don’t know about Freedom Oliver. They know she works at the local bar. They know she likes a drink or two. What they don’t know is that Freedom is not her real name. That she has spent the last eighteen years living under Witness Protection, after being arrested for her husband’s murder. They don’t know that she put her two children up for adoption, a decision that haunts her every day. Then Freedom’s daughter goes missing, and everything changes. Determined to find her, Freedom slips her handlers and heads to Kentucky where her kids were raised. No longer protected by the government, she is tracked by her husband’s sadistic family, who are thirsty for revenge. But as she gets closer to the truth, Freedom faces an even more dangerous threat. She just doesn’t know it yet…

Every so often a crime thriller debut comes along with an understated but powerful writing style that fair knocks you off your feet. Freedom’s Child is one such book, and in deference to the general acclaim this book is receiving across the book world, I can only agree with the general trend of overwhelmingly positive reviews it is deservedly attracting…

Focusing on the damaged, and utterly compelling character of Freedom Oliver, many reviewers have been quick to draw comparisons with Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. However, I firmly believe that Freedom, although shaped and emotionally damaged by past events in her life, represents an altogether more powerful credibility as a strong female character. Her whole outwardly hard drinking, feisty and kick ass demeanour, belies her very real emotional frailty, not assuaged by any evidence of intellectual or technological genius as evinced by Salander. Instead, she is completely driven by the overwhelming maternal instinct, caused by the separation of herself from her children, and the sheer determination to atone for, and rescue them from, the repercussions of the violence her actions have given rise to. Throughout the book Miller carefully maintains these two contrasting aspects of her character, where Freedom attempts to shut down emotional engagement and tolerance of others, seemingly on the road to self-destruction, but with the reader always being aware of the fire that burns deep within her driven by her lost role as a mother and the emotional focus this gives her. Her un-mailed letters to her two lost children are particularly heart-wrenching. The characterisation that Miller ascribes to her is as disturbing as it is poignant, and equally how every other character’s actions is so influenced by, or attuned to our mercurial heroine. Her interplay with, and reactions to, those that would help or hinder her keep her in sharp focus throughout, and in her Miller has created a multi-faceted and completely mesmerising central character.

By weaving in the issue of religious fundamentalism, and the focus of the destructive patriarchy of cult leaders, alongside some pretty abhorrent figures from Freedom’s ill-judged marriage, Miller has plenty of ammunition to spray on the evil deeds of men. Freedom’s past experiences, and the current collision course she finds herself on, have been shaped comprehensively by the thoughts, opinions and fists of some pretty despicable men. As disturbed as I was by the truly horrific male specimens that Miller serves up to us, I appreciated her unflinching characterisation of them, as difficult as it was to read at times. However, to balance the score, Miller does ascribe a modicum of decency to both Freedom’s son, Mason, her brother-in-law Peter, and Freedom’s would-be protector, police officer James Mattley, and these three characters will resonate strongly with most readers, as both emotive and engaging characters.

Equally, Miller has a laconic, lean and incredibly rhythmical cadence to the writing style, that is on a par with some of the best writers in contemporary American fiction- Daniel Woodrell, Denis Johnson, and Willy Vlautin spring to mind. The use of a certain amount of rhythmical repetition carries the reader along, and really embeds the voice of Freedom in the reader’s consciousness. Likewise, the visual depiction of something as rough and ready as a biker bar, is counterbalanced by some truly beautiful descriptions of the sprawling landscapes and highways that Freedom travels on her mercy mission, retaining the sense of authenticity that Miller demonstrates throughout her writing.

This book has haunted me since reading it, and as a reader and a bookseller, it is always something special to be so affected by, and witness to, a powerful new voice in fiction. Quite possibly will be my book of the year. Terrific.

 

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