Taken by Lisa Stone

Looking for Leila…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Little Leila Smith has had to learn to look out for herself. Her mother, Kelsey, is often out of it on drugs or drink, which she pays for out of the money she makes from prostitution. So when Leila disappears from the playground one evening, it’s several hours before Kelsey realises she’s missing…

The reader knows, though, and we also know straight away who took her – a man who lives in the same block of flats as Leila and her mum. Happily, we also discover quite quickly that, although there are dark aspects to this story, it isn’t about child sexual abuse and the man is not a paedophile. That leaves us with the central mystery of the book – why has he taken Leila? And what does he intend to do with her? Will she ever get back home?

Meantime, Kelsey has been shocked into sobriety. She knew that there was already a good chance that the Social Services would take Leila away from her, and now she’s sure that even if Leila is found, there’s no chance of her being allowed to come back to live with a mother who didn’t even notice she was missing. Her struggle to stay clean forms another strand of the book. Here Stone doesn’t cut any corners in letting us see the sordid and dangerous life Kelsey is leading and at first it’s hard to sympathise with someone who has neglected her child so badly, but as we see her guilt and regret, and her terror at what might have happened to Leila, she becomes more likeable and I soon found I was rooting for her to finally get off the drugs and get her life together.

The main story regarding Leila’s disappearance requires a major suspension of disbelief at several points. She’s supposed to be eight but speaks and acts like a much older child. Partly this could be down to her having had to fend for herself more than a child of that age should, but it still doesn’t ring entirely true. The idea that she wouldn’t already have been in care is hard to swallow too but is necessary for the story, so let’s call it fictional licence. Even though she didn’t wholly convince me, I admit that she gradually won my heart and I found myself hoping that somehow there would be a good outcome for both her and her mum.

Even the baddie got a bit of sympathy from me once his reasons became clear. I had a pretty good idea of where the story was likely to be going from about halfway through, but was still interested in seeing how it all worked out for the various characters, and found the ending satisfying and more credible than some of the stuff that happened in the earlier parts of the book.

It’s well written in a plain style that suits the story – third person, past tense, so we see various perspectives, Kelsey’s, Leila’s, the baddie’s, and Beth’s, the police officer who’s in charge of the investigation. It has twists enough to keep it interesting, but not the ridiculous kind that turn the whole story on its head twenty pages before the end. Well-paced and not overly long, I found it a fast read and, once I got into it and put my disbelief in cold storage, a page-turner. And much less bleak than that blurb had led me to fear, largely due to the sympathetic characterisation. An enjoyable read!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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35 thoughts on “Taken by Lisa Stone

    • I was surprised too. The blurb made me feel it was going to go down the well-worn and unpleasant track of child sex abuse so it was a pleasant relief when it turned out to be something quite different.

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  1. I was sure this was going to be a dud, I think we probably all were to be honest, so I’m glad it was a pleasant surprise in the end. I imagine it would be difficult to get the psychology of a child right though, as there seem to be a fair number of fictional children who either seem older or younger than they really are.

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    • Haha, I certainly was – I thought it would end up on the growing abandoned pile quite quickly! But when I realised it wasn’t going to be a child sex abuse story I became intrigued as to exactly why he’d taken her… I rarely think child voices or perspectives work – if the author makes them sound authentic then they’re too young and inarticulate to be interesting, so they often end up sounding far older than their years. Ten or eleven is about the youngest age that really works, I think.

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    • Haha. me too, Cathy – and this one annoyed me even more, because poor little Leila would never have had such smart boots and jacket, nor her hair beautifully styled…

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  2. This one does sound suspenseful, FictionFan. And it must be very well-written to garner any sympathy for the man who took Leila. I’m glad you said right away that it’s not truly dark, and the guy isn’t a paedophile. Not only is that theme sickening to me, but it’s been done in a number of books. It sounds as though this one has an interesting twist on the ‘child taken’ theme, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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    • The blurb made me think it was going to be another child sex abuse novel and I’ve had more than my fill of them – I don’t like that subject being used as “entertainment”. So I was expecting to abandon this quite quickly and then was intrigued when I discovered that wasn’t where the story was going after all! I liked that she showed the characters as all having good and bad sides, too – made them feel real.

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  3. You are reading contemporary crime fiction now? I’ve become so used to seeing vintage crime reviews on your blog, so that came as a surprise. Glad you mostly enjoyed it! I am occasionally reading modern crime as well, but I have to admit the authors I typically like have a distinct old-school vibe. 🙄

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    • Haha, it’s funny how my tastes have changed. I used to read loads of contemporary crime when I started blogging, until the genre became overwhelmed with these identikit domestic thrillers and eventually I just couldn’t take any more. And that’s when I turned to vintage crime! On the whole the contemporary stuff I still enjoy is mostly police procedurals, though even they usually spend more time on the detective’s personal problems than on the mystery…

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    • Haha, the cover is terrible, isn’t it? So tired of these red-jacketed females! I’m trying to get back into at least a bit of contemporary crime, but still abandoning more than I’m reading… 😉

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  4. I’m relieved to hear this one wasn’t as dark as it COULD be. Looks like the red raincoat on the front isn’t always a harbinger of a terrible book hahah

    I’ve found, that if I put my disbelief in cold storage for a bit too, I tend to enjoy reading much more 🙂

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    • Indeed! I’ve read too many books about child sex abuse already, so I was pleasantly surprised when this headed in a different direction! Haha, poor little Leila would never have had a nice red jacket like that one… 😥

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  5. I was expecting to hear this was a DNF because the story went in a direction you didn’t want to read about. Glad I was wrong. The book does appeal to me but I don’t see myself reading it unless it falls into my lap.

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  6. It sounds like a very good book, from your description. I imagine it was hard at first to like anybody, but it’s interesting to see that this changes as the characters evolve.

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    • Yes, at first I thought I was going to hate all the characters because among them they were making poor little Leila’s life so tough. But she did an excellent job at showing that they all had their share of good and bad points, so that gradually I began to care about them all. Made all the difference to the enjoyability!

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  7. Like others, I thought this book wouldn’t suit. But what a surprise, huh? I enjoyed your review. I’m glad you enjoyed this book, though as with other books about children disappearing, I tend to want to run the other way.

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