Five stars (of five)
When I received a strong recommendation to read Nicholl’s first novel, I was not sure what to expect. As the note to readers clearly states, the content is anything but lighthearted, though it pervades society in every city around the world. Dr. David Galbraith is a renowned child psychiatrist in Wales, whose practice sees many referrals from Child Protection social workers. While helping his patients with their various issues, Galbraith seeks his next conquest at the hands of those who are victims of abuse and forms of neglect. As the reader soon learns, besides expanding his practice by providing services for vulnerable children, he is at the head of a paedophile ring that spans all across the region. Enter, Anthony Mailer, who’s been sent by his general practitioner to help deal with the psychological issues of his parents’ recent separation. Galbraith preys on young Anthony and concocts a treatment plan that will allow complete domination over the seven year old, while demanding parental compliance. Nicholl paints a picture of a family in crisis and a mother willing to do whatever she can to help her son. When kidnapping attempts by Galbraith prove unsuccessful, he must rely on his ring of friends to help complete the ultimate act, an abduction. Unsuspecting and somewhat complicit through her ignorance, Galbraith’s wife, Cynthia, chooses to ignore her husband’s acts and remains highly submissive to his verbally abusive ways. With all the tools to meet his needs, Galbraith attempts an abduction while the authorities begin putting the pieces together. Other children begin to come forward, telling horrific tales of abuse at Galbraith’s hands. Will Child Protection Services and the local police act in time to save Anthony and cut the head off the paedophile serpent or will Cynthia Galbraith insulate her husband yet again? Nicholl leaves the reader vulnerable and yet totally in control as the chapters fly by and the horrors pile up with each passing page. A sensational debut novel, whose disturbing content will parse the number of readers able to stomach it, but those who persevere are richly rewarded.
Actively working in the Child Protection field, I have seen some of the horrors that can, and do, take place behind closed doors. Nicholl uses his own expertise in the field to depict some of the worst events in this novel, as well as touching on an important theme: trust. It may be hard to believe, paedophiles come in all forms, from the dregs of society to those in positions of trust and authority, but Nicholl illustrates how trust can be the most intoxicating drug of all for the sexual exploitation of children. Nicholl illustrates this throughout the novel, but also shows the large network trying to uncover them and help the most helpless victims. However, the system relies on information and the testimony of the victims, which can also be the paedophile’s greatest defence. Fear and the sense of not being believed work against the victim, a wall best removed by having society encourage disclosures and taking the victim, especially a child, at face value. While Nicholl’s choice of novel topic is highly disturbing, there is a great sense of hope buried within these pages. Hope that will only see the light of day as long as those investigating crimes against children receive the support and access they so badly need. If there is one downside to this novel, it would have to be the punctuation and proofreading issues that pervade the text. I sense that it is an issue at the editorial level, where individuals did not read the novel as best they should. If I, as a reader, can catch them on the first read through, I can issue nothing but shame to those who let them pass in the proofing stage. Perhaps I could ask for part of your paycheque to offset your lack of professionalism and completion of a simple task. Alas, it is Nicholl who looks the fool, though his novel is so well crafted, I can put it behind me.
Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for your sensational novel. I cannot wait to read the sequel, to which you allude in the author’s note. I hope it is as explosive as this novel!