The Winter Foundlings (Alice Quentin 3) by Kate Rhodes

the winter foundlingsBaked beans and a bottle of plonk…

🙂 🙂 😐

Ten-year-old Ella Williams has been abducted and is being held prisoner. She’s the third girl to go missing – the previous two have been murdered, dressed in white dresses of the kind worn by inmates of the old Foundlings Hospital, and their bodies left in cardboard boxes. The murders mirror those of psychopathic killer Louis Kinsella, now a resident in Northwood – a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane – and each time a victim is killed, the killer sends a token to Kinsella. Time is running out for Ella, and it’s up to psychologist Alice Quentin to get inside Kinsella’s mind and find out what he knows before it’s too late.

This is the third in the Alice Quentin series, and I’ve enjoyed the previous ones. As before, Alice is a likeable protagonist and Rhodes is very strong at creating a sense of place. In this one, Alice has moved away from central London to take up a research post at Northwood. It is nearly Christmas and England is in the grip of a huge freeze, and Rhodes gives a very good sense of snow and ice adding difficulties to all parts of the investigation.

Unfortunately the plot doesn’t match up to the atmosphere. It’s so similar to The Silence of the Lambs that comparisons must be made, and they don’t work in this one’s favour. Kinsella is no Hannibal Lecter and Alice is a pale shadow of Clarice Starling. The story is split between Alice’s first person past tense narrative and Ella’s story, told as third person present tense. There’s really very little to the plot – psychopathic killer copycatting another one, investigation wears on with nothing much happening till the big (unbelievable) thriller ending. So the book is padded out with Alice’s social life – she keeps telling us she’s working every hour to save poor Ella (quietly freezing and starving away in the background) but she manages to fit in three parties, several nights in the pub and a couple of love interests – all this in the space of a couple of weeks. No wonder she’s emotionally drained.

Don, the detective in charge of the case and, of course, one of the love interests, has to be made to look incredibly stupid to explain why he doesn’t do basic things, like interview the staff at Northwood (his reason being they must have been vetted before they got the job, so they can’t possibly be doing anything wrong, can they?), or not searching places because the owners tell him there’s no need. It galls me somewhat when the police are made to look incompetent for no reason other than to string a story out.

Kate Rhodes
Kate Rhodes

And I’m afraid I also found the ages of the victims made the plot distasteful. Why it should feel worse to read about a five-year old child being cruelly abused and murdered than a twenty-year-old-girl, I’m not sure. I reckon we have it programmed into our genes that we owe more protection to the young, even when they’re fictional. But whatever the reason, it left a very unpleasant after-taste. Without wishing to get too psychobabbly, somehow descriptions of abuse and violence towards children in a book that is trying to say something meaningful about a serious subject are bearable. But when they’re done purely for ‘entertainment’, I don’t find them so. And this book falls into the latter category.

Personally, I think the serial killer motif has been done now, and child-killing serial killers especially so. But hey! As I usually do, I’ve had a look to see what other people are saying and the book is getting 5-star reviews all round, so I guess it must be me! There’s no doubt it’s well written in terms of characterisation and atmosphere, so I guess if this is the kind of thing you like, then you’ll like this.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, St Martin’s Press.

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52 thoughts on “The Winter Foundlings (Alice Quentin 3) by Kate Rhodes

  1. As ever, thanks for your candor, FictionFan. Sorry to hear this one disappointed you. I have to say I agree with you about serial killers. In fact, on that score alone I’m not sure I’m going to read this. And it only makes it worse that young children are involved. Just…not my cuppa I’m afraid.

    • I enjoyed the serial killer thing for a long time but really there’s nothing much new left in it – and this one was unfortunately very derivative. And the plot would have worked just as well if the victims had been older so I’m not sure why it had to be young children except for an added ‘thrill’…

  2. I love a good serial killer romp (if that’s the right phrase to use!) and I have a strong stomach so could probably get over the small child element (although it seems to be used for shock factor more than anything. Ugh). Before the end of your first paragraph, I was thinking Silence Of The Lambs and a book would have to go quite some way to compare to that. It’s a brave (or daft) writer that aligns their plot so closely with an already well-known and classic tale and it doesn’t sound like she managed to pull it off successfully. I wonder if the ridiculously active social life was some sort of tongue-in-cheek attempt at a joke? Alice sounds like a modern-day Catchpool – being everywhere but at work! I loved the review, even if I will be giving the actuall book a very wide berth.

    • I did for ages too, but the last few I’ve read just seem to be churning over the same plots – I’m guessing there’s not much new to be said. At risk of sounding totally pompous, it’s not the killing of kids that bothers me – I rarely get so swept away that I forget it’s fictional – it’s more that I don’t like aouthors using children when they could just as easily use adults. I’m never sure what their motives are, and can’t help feeling it’s just to add an extra ‘thrill’, probably to cover up for the lightness of the underlying plot. *removes pompous hat now* But this one was so Silencey it was almost a rip-off at points – she had Alice walk along between the cells with all the insane prisoners shouting obscenities at her – sound familiar? And yet, not nearly as chilling as when Clarice did the same walk. And that wasn’t the only bit that rang bells…

      Haha! I nearly said in my review that Alice was more Catchpool than Clarice but I knew loads of people wouldn’t get the reference.

      • I guess there are limited plots with serial killers – they just kill a lot of people, generally until they are caught or die *feels like trying to write an original serial killer story…* I agree totally with you about the use of children in these things – it does sound like it’s for the shock factor. Is it explained why children are the target? Serial killers who keep to a specific type of victim (rather than just anyone they can grab when the urge takes them) usually have a ‘reason’ for their choice. Okay, I’m getting a bit pompous now! Basically it sounds like a poor imitation of SOTL and that is bad form, in my book.
        Catchpool is sort of becoming one of favourite literary characters, if only for the fact he sets the standard of ‘unbelievably incompetent fictional police officers’ haha!

        • It would be fun to try to find an original angle, I admit. In this one, the original psycho seemed to think that young girls were evil, but it didn’t go much deeper than that. I suspect, thinking of stories where kids have been the victims which I’ve enjoyed more, it’s that usually the ones that are killed are killed before the reader joins the story, so the ones we get to know are in peril, but get saved at the end.Whereas in this one we’re actually present when one of the children is killed, and the child was particularly vulnerable. But I also suspect my tolerance is getting lower – having worked with boys with behavioural problems, I’m much more aware of the ‘messages’ we send to ‘yoof’ in pop culture – hence my aversion to bad language, misogyny, etc. Not that most of the boys would ever dream of reading a book! Haha!

          I’ve grown increasingly fond of the chap myself – imagine his reaction to the bodies in this one!!

          • There is absolutely no reason at all to have the reader present at the killing of a child, I actually find that quite offensive (and I am so hard to offend). If it isn’t a factual account then that kind of thing is nothing more than shock-value which no decent writer needs to employ. And you are so right – impressionable minds do not need this kind of input. Gosh, I feel like a pretentious old maid now! But, like you, I have worked with the less fortunate in society so I suppose we have a more realistic view on these things. Catchpool would just give up completely and turn his attentions to the most epic crossword ever! Right – it’s too early for wine so I guess I should turn to sausages to lighten my mood haha!

            • A POM! Me too! We could start up a band called the Pom-Poms… that would be so cool! (As you can gather, I’m rather out of touch with what constitutes coolness these days. Do you think matching bobble hats much be a bit much…?)

  3. It is most certainly not you! We all know you’re the best book reviewer ever. This professor implicitly trusts your opinions. (They’ve been proven to me, see.)

    What?! She has a couple of love interests? *professorish eyebrow* Girls! But everyone should be able to fit in late night parties–I never do that sort of thing, though.

    I love how the smileys tell most of what you thought right out. The overall impression rather. FEF, what’s a plonk?

    • Awwwww! You’re lovely, you are, you know, you know!! *quickly adds another ten books to his list while he’s in the right mood*

      Her parties were so dull in comparison to Professorial parties though. There were moments when I was actually hoping Mr R and his ladies would gatecrash… And it has to be said – she was a bit of a flirt!

      I’m thinking I should just give the title and the smileys. I was particularly thinking that when I still hadn’t finished this review at 2.30 a.m last night. *laughs* Don’t Americans say ‘plonk’ then? It’s cheap wine – it was supposed to be a twist on Hannibal’s ‘fava beans and a nice chianti’ but I guess it’ll maybe only work for Brits…

      • *blushes and smiles bigly* Another ten? Must be the Dune and Carter books. I’ve ordered Dune Messiah, and I’m so excited about it. I want to see Paul as the emperor!

        *laughing* Mr. R and his ladies definitely liven up a party, that’s for sure. Of course, when I go, I add the spicy element too. Did they dance at her parties?

        *laughing more* That is quite late, I’d say…such dedication! But it’s appreciated…at least by me. So, no…you must write the whole review. Or, you could post a picture of a guitar. I might allow that.

        I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that saying either. Must be because I’m so old. Plonk is a good word. I’m going to try it out tonight at this dinner party…

        • Well, those ones to start with! *chuckles wickedly* Me too! I want to see if I’m right in remembering Irulan as nice – maybe I’m wrong and she’s evil…

          They did, but in that new-fanged way where people just sway about and waggle their limbs around – not proper ballroom dancing, like we’ll do!

          I did feel dedicated. Also exhausted! I shall remember the guitar pic tip for future, but my girlie followers would probably like a nice picture of a hero too. Now…where could I find a hero complete with kissgirl and guitar? *thinks*

          Haven’t you ever seen Silence of the Lambs? Oh, you should! It’s ghastly!!! A dinner party? That sounds swish!!

          • She’s definitely evil. Definitely. Definitely. Double-defnititely. I’m going on a reading strike, you know. *waits to see what FEF will think of that*

            Oh, good. I’d much rather do the ballroom stuff, I think.

            You know, I’ve got no clue…umm… (Just finished recording something!)

            I think I maybe saw the end…? It’s too bland. Is that the movie nothing happens in?

            • *gasps* You can’t do that!! Only communists go on strike!! Why have you been driven to this desperate measure? What are your demands?

              *nods* I knew you would…

              I do! (Oooh, what? And more importantly, when will it hit youtube?? My youtube recommendations are full of Kenny vids again thanks to you… *sobs*)

              Eh? Well, apart from the cannibalism, the ripping people’s faces off, the being chased by a mad serial killer in the dark… no, nothing much happens!

            • *laughing* That’s a good point… Well…my demand is fairly simple. It’s also fairly peaceful. Tell me at once!!!!!!!!!!!!!

              Yes, I’m something of a classical chap overall.

              No you don’t! *covers FEF’s eyes* (*laughs* That’s not half bad! We’ll we’re all scheduled to record two on Tuesday. I finally got a theatre.)

              Oh yeah? That sounds rather nice. I think I’ll just watch John Carter again. Have I told you I’m hopelessly obsessed with that movie?

            • *laughing lots* Should I? Shouldn’t I? It’s a tricky decision – let me mull over it for a bit and get back to you…

              *nods* Smooth!

              The image is imprinted on my brain! (Yay! Two? Ooooh, can’t wait! Just don’t tire yourself out though – you’ll need to be careful, now you’re getting so old…)

              You may have mentioned it once or twice! There’s just a tiny, teeny little bit of me that wishes I reminded you of Dejah Thoris rather than Woola… *smiles widely and lolls tongue*

            • It can’t be that important! Mull over it for a bit–dadblameit!

              Twas the truth, Ms. Disco Dancer!

              Well…I was watching Star Trek (the old one) Saturday. And they had this device that would wipe a mind clear. I’m buying one! (It’ll be fun! And a bit tiring, I fear. But that’s the fun part. Yes, two!)

              *laughing* A tiny bit? Well, she was into science and you are, too. *nods* I could see it. You’re more Aravis, though.

            • *cackles*

              I meant it as a compliment – that you are smooth, not that you were being smooth! Does that make sense? I doubt it…

              You were? Isn’t Spock great? Did Scotty say “She canna take any more, Captain!’? If you wiped my mind clear, I could read P&P again for the very first time… (I bet it will be fun! That’ll be a nice way to spend… St Patrick’s Day… Oooh, hurry up and post them!)

              I couldn’t get all those tattoos though – too squeamish. Aravis will do fine…

            • My life is so unfair the sudden.

              I get it! And it’s making me smile. But I can’t shake the feeling that you’re just saying this so I’ll want to dance…

              Well, I only saw Spock and the Captain Fellow. Yes…but you wouldn’t know who JA was, and I wouldn’t tell you! (I forgot it was St. Pat’s day tomorrow. That’s what happens when you’re busy planning.)

              Though, they both have dark hair and you have blonde hair.

            • I know! Poor Prof!

              Oh, I know secretly you really want to dance anyway *nods confidently*

              *gasps* How mean! But Darby and I are destined to be together so I’d find out anyway! (Memory failure is a symptom of ageing…)


  4. I liked this author’s first book, CROSSBONES YARD and have yet to read #2. Yours is the first review I’ve read of this third one. Sigh. Really – Hannibal and Clarice. Well, I plan to read the one I have and then we will see. I’ll likely have forgotten the details by the time I get around to it. 😉

    • I enjoyed Crossbones Yard too, and the second one. It was really the subject matter of this one that put me off, and that’s so subjective. It’s silly, given that it’s fiction, but had the girls been in their twenties, I’d probably have been fine with it! Maybe that says more about me, than the book! 😉 But don’t be put off – lots of people whose opinions I respect have loved this one.

  5. Though the premise sounds interesting, I might skip this one. I loved Silence of the Lambs. But like you, I think I’m done with serial killer stories.

    • I loved Silence of the Lambs too and went through a phase of reading loads of serial killer novels – I loved Val McDermid’s Tony Hill books. But I’ve even fallen out of love with the last few of them. I guess I’d still read one that sounded as if it had something original about it, but this one felt really quite derivative and stale somehow.

  6. I recently watched a Sherlock Holmes movie. It was the story of Jack the Ripper, and I was thinking of that when I was reading your review. For myself, having three grandchildren from six years old down to seven months, I would not like to watch a serial murderer put one piece of his finger nail on one of the children. Maybe I am prejudiced, but there you have it. 😀

    • Indeed! Generally speaking it doesn’t bother me when I know it’s fiction, but it just seemed a bit distasteful in this one because the plot could easily have accommodated older victims instead of young kids – not that it’s OK to kill adults either (!), but you know what I mean… 😉

  7. Thinking back to when I read this book sometime last July I did have the thought that you might not enjoy as much as I did. But then I read another 100 books and forget the thought! Sorry 🙂 I think I have the advantage of not having read/watched SOTL 🙂 I think timing is everything…depending on what you have read when effects as to how you feel about the next book. I am tired of the Gone Girl ref – I think it spoils the read because you are looking out for the unreliable narrator and questioning what you are reading… I did enjoy this book – sorry that your experience was only average. Life is too short for average.

    Plonk – Aussies know this term to 🙂 Or at least English Aussies do 🙂

  8. Well, I’ve enjoyed the comments as much as your review! I was a bit meh about the first book, haven’t read the second yet and I’m not sure about continuing the series after this review. The policing element would annoy me as well. I know the story is from the point of view of the psychologist but the incompetence of the police would just have me throwing the book or kindle at the wall and I certainly can’t afford to be throwing my kindle at the wall! I’ve got a couple of series I plan on reading in full anyway, one I’m part way through and one I’ve read the first book of, so I don’t think I’ll worry too much if this doesn’t reach my reading pile.

    • Yes, I think that’s often the problem when the protagonist isn’t a police officer – the police have to be made to look incompetent in order to make the protagonist look good. But so much of it is down to the writing – I’m totally inconsistent, even about things like kids as victim, and it must be down to how well the author handles it. In this case, it bothered me because I didn’t think it was handled with much sensitivity. She is good at atmosphere and sense of place though – and other people have enjoyed this one far more than me…

  9. Great review. Serial killers are so C.20, and I hate books where the police are idiots. I know they sometimes make what an old teacher of mine used to call “egregious errors” occasionally, and they, of course, are what we hear about, but in my experience, which as you know is fairly extensive, I find the police competent, dedicated and efficient – and a bit too paramilitary for my taste!

    • Yes, especially Hannibal Lecter type serial killers. From the comments it looks like the people who are enjoying this most haven’t read or seen Silence of the Lambs, so the storyline felt fresh to them, whereas to me it felt derivative and not done nearly as well.

      I don’t mind if something goes wrong in an investigation for good reason, but just making them not take obvious actions removes any sense of credibility – I can’t imagine any police officer saying ‘Oh this person was Disclosure-checked so they can’t be a criminal!’

  10. Sorry you didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous two books although unlike you I haven’t read or watched Hannibal so the similarities weren’t obvious to me. After being less than enamoured with a few of the more recent psychological thrillers I’ve read I came to the conclusion that maybe I’d saturated my interest in this genre, when you’ve read lots of any type of novel I’m sure that’s more likely to happen as it is harder to come up with something new.

    • Yes, I think I’m just done with psychopathic serial killers – I read so many of them at one stage that it’d be hard for an author to come up with anything really new. It looks like it might be the Silence of the Lambs thing that made me feel differently about this one – maybe if I hadn’t been making comparisons I’d have enjoyed this one more. And I’m getting fed up with all the psychological thrillers too. Variety, that’s the secret! If only somebody would tell the authors/publishers…

  11. This sort of thing never happens in the sleepy village of Midsomer (where I get my murder kicks). There they always make sure that the victims are appropriately aged and, usually, that they were rotters who had it coming anyway. Then the murder is happily resolved, with no socialite parties (unless they are in the manor house) or detective romances, in time for me to have a cup of tea and go to bed. It does beg the question though as to why people keep moving to Midsomer when it has such a high murder rate. With all the murders that have taken place, by rights the village should be empty now but it seems to be regularly restocked with both credulous and murderous parishioners.

    • Indeed not! Mr Barnaby would never allow such going-ons! I reckon it must be that property prices are incredibly low there – understandably – and the locals don’t tell newcomers what to expect…so they have ever-replenishing supply of victims. Bwahaha!!! Plus, it’s the only place in England where you can be sure of sunshine…

    • Yes, I think so. I enjoyed her first two and it was the plot of this one rather than the writing that didn’t work for me. But other people have loved this one…

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