Dinuka McKenzie – Taken

Harper Collins, Australia, 2023
Cover design by Louis Maggio Design
Cover image Maria Petkova/Arcangel

Taken is the sequel to The Torrent, but, as with all good series, it is not essential to have read the first to fall immediately into this story and its people. This is a book with motherhood at its heart and most of its cunningly intertwined strands come back to this in the end.

Barbie spoke with Dinuka McKenzie about Taken

Our heroine Kate (Kathryn Aneesha) Miles is both a Glock-toting police office and the breast-leaking mother of two children, one a wee baby. Her return to work soon after the birth of her second child and not long after a traumatic incident (from the previous novel) is questioned by both elements of the police force and her husband.

That the first case she becomes embroiled in involves the welfare of young children spikes her emotional vulnerability, but also makes her more determined to push through.

Hot on the heels of the opening callout, Kate is straight into the investigation of a missing child – a parent’s worst nightmare and another red flag on the impossibility of professional distance. Elissa, the mother of Sienna, the missing child, has escaped a past of domestic violence and other traumas, but is now apparently in a supportive marriage.

She is also supported by her phlegmatic mother Rayna – more layers of the maternal relationships that glue the story together.

While Kate pursues leads, she is also contending with misogyny and professional jealousy from male colleagues. The police force has long been male dominated and notoriously sexist and Kate’s workplace is no different.

She is constantly fighting to keep her place at the head of the investigation and at the same time contending with her disgruntled husband who feels she is neglecting her family. She feels she is too, but at the same desperately wants and needs to be engaged in her professional life.

Mothers the world over can identify with this I am sure and, perhaps increasingly, fathers too. The very familiarity of this dilemma allows the reader to identify with Kate. This is a clever device, deftly handled by the author.

We are tossed in quick succession between domestic mundanity and nail biting police investigation, the gentleness of the night feed and the exhaustion of long, gruelling days filled with violence and aggression, the need for constant hyper-alertness.

Kate is also subject to racism. She is ever conscious that many members of the public, if not her colleagues, judge her for not being white (oh my! not white AND female). It is another unjust questioning of her competence, but nevertheless undermining. The book also takes us into discrimination against homosexual relationships, issues of corruption and of political expediency.

A gentler breeze surrounds Kate’s evolving relationship with her father Gray and his personal life. The various scenes in this story strand are a balm, emotionally complex and sensitively drawn. And there it is again, parenthood, though this time it’s fatherhood, which is also played out in the main plot relationships with Kate and Geoff and the Elissa story.

Without spoiling the plot for readers coming to the work, let it be said that dramatic incident follows dramatic incident at a breath-taking pace and that the denouement is equivocal on questions of justice. There’s a deep sorrow in this story derived from the fact that we are not equal in our fortune. Sometimes our early decisions have long destructive tendrils and there is little fairness to be had from the fates and the chance of birth.

Taken is a rich and satisfying read, compelling in its crime action, and thought-provoking in its literary depth. The author’s capacity to evoke our own memories and vulnerabilities – and hence our empathetic responses –  is profound.

There is compassion here, nothing maudlin but a real sense of an author’s kindly and forgiving gaze on humanity. I eagerly await Kate’s next appearance.

Thank you to Harper Collins  for my review copy and to Dinuka for a forthright and engaging conversation about motherhood, human nature and crime fiction.