I was delighted to be given the chance by the lovely people at Mumsnet to review debut crime thriller Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. I’m more of a literary fiction than a crime fiction type of reader but I’m broad minded and like trying out new books.
Plus, it was pretty exciting receiving a brand new hard copy edition through the post. Since I’ve gone all Kindle, I miss holding a physical copy of a book in my hands, even if this one was a bit heavy for the handbag.
So what’s it all about?
This book tells the story of Freedom Oliver, an alcoholic living an empty, isolated life in among America’s underbelly. Think cheap motels and pool bar hustles.
Freedom is not quite who she says she is and her secrets are eating her up inside, so much so that she keeps a suicide jar at home, daily filling it up with the medication she’s supposed to be taking to keep her stable.
You see Freedom is under a witness protection scheme. She was arrested for killing her husband almost 20 years ago, but stitched up his brother for the crime instead. Her two children were adopted and she now spends her life angrily trying to blot out the past with the contents of a bottle, or several.
Initially Freedom is very difficult to like: coarse, aggressive and difficult. But a few moments of tenderness help reveal a kinder soul than she leads people to believe and as the book unravels her past we become committed to sticking with her through her present, and curious about and hopeful for her future.
The story kicks into action when news breaks that her daughter Rebekah is missing and Freedom sets off on a mission to find her, with her vengeful in-laws chasing her tail and a concerned local police officer also following closely behind.
Freedom’s Child on one level is a basic whodunit, telling the story of what has happened to Rebekah, but more than that it is the story of Freedom, and it is in portraying that journey that debut novelist Jax Miller has triumphed, creating a well-rounded, interesting character who you root for and connect with. It is Freedom’s story that makes this book worth reading.
Is it any good?
There is plenty of action in Freedom’s Child, and lots of plot twists and turns that knit together quite well, a few plot holes aside. At times I felt there was a bit too much exposition in the writing and I’d have preferred a little bit more subtlety. Some of the prose reads like screenplay instructions, though I do think it’s a story that would transport to film format quite well (a hallmark of a younger author who’s been influenced by a media diet of TV and film).
Miller has created a strong, memorable heroine in Freedom who rattles around in your brain a bit in between reads. But some of the other characters lacked a little depth for me, and some of the villains (and there were many) strayed into pantomime baddie territory at times.
The story taps into some social issues but they are purely there to serve the plot rather than to make any judgements about society. It’s a personal preference, but I prefer issues to be handled with greater care otherwise some gritty subject matter can seem a little gratuitous and Freedom’s Child did sometime feel like it was relentlessly bleak without any wider comment.
However, all the way through the book, I was hoping it was all going to culminate in a fantastic ending in which Freedom got the life she deserved and found the answers she was looking for. I don’t want to spoil the ending but I was fully satisfied with it, and it almost made all the bleak parts worthwhile. I even shed a tear.
Beach read or book group?
I think Freedom’s Child is perfect for holiday reading (if you can stomach bleak and gritty fiction). It’s easy reading and fast paced, and you’ll want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Plus it’s fairly interruption-proof. It’s easy enough to pick up the story, if like me, you face multiple interruptions in your day to attend to snacks or drinks or watch the latest Ronaldo-inspired football trick.
I wouldn’t choose this for a book group though. It lacks any depth or complexity to prompt any decent discussion. It’s a fairly black and white, good versus evil tale.
Recommended for . . .
- crime fiction fans looking for a fresh voice
- anyone looking for a strong heroine
- returning to reading after a hiatus
Not recommended for. . .
- crime fiction fans who like a gentle whodunnit
- readers who like their prose to be beautiful and complex
- anyone who is turned off by swearing, sex and violence