*I received a free copy of this book. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Can a family that has been savagely ripped apart find healing and redemption?
Are the mysteries hidden in the human heart destined to reveal themselves?
The Rocking Horse, Gloria Zachgo’s spellbinding suspense novel, charts the harrowing emotional journey of one family that is torn asunder, then magically drawn together again.
Jenny Preston has been missing for twenty-two years after being taken at the age of two on the very night her mother Amanda, Aunt Ruth, and Uncle Don were brutally and senselessly murdered. While Jenny’s grandparents learn to cope with the tragedies, the sheriff, Will Barclay, must grapple with his own guilt and secrets involving the murders. The crime, which rocked the small town of Shady Creek, Kansas, has never been solved.
More than two decades later, a woman who calls herself Julie Hendricks is led by a childhood toy to Shady Creek, where she finds refuge from an abusive husband. Living on her own for the first time in her life, she starts to regain her self esteem and make new friends. Her life is then turned upside down again when she discovers she may be the child that was abducted from this very town so many years ago. With the encouragement of her new friends, and a very special someone, she returns to Chicago to learn the truth of her childhood history from her father. After a gripping turn of events, Julie returns to Shady Creek to wrestle with the emotional complexities of her new life and how her past life is starting to catch up with her. An unexpected hero comes to Julie’s aid.
A story of family, home, and the grave consequences of actions, The Rocking Horse explores the aftermath of the most unimaginable heartache: the disappearance of a child. Fast-paced and full of intrigue, this riveting read mines the depths of the human heart on its road to recovery.
The Rocking Horse is one of those books that is oddly unsettling due to the subversion of the reader’s genre expectations. Which is not to say that it is a bad read…in fact I couldn’t put it down!
Everything about the style, setting, characters, and plot set-up screams that this is a cosy mystery type suspense thriller. Except that the reader knows everything from the very beginning. We know who committed the murders and why they did it, and we know all along where and who Jenny Preston is.
So where is the suspense? The mystery? Why keep reading?
The answer is straightforward, and actually clearly laid out in the ‘blurb’: this isn’t a mystery thriller, despite feeling like one: it is an exploration of human relationships; family; friendship; loss; trust; and what unexpected actions we will take for the ones we love.
The story is told in simple, direct language and the author has skilfully evoked an atmosphere where you can taste the home cooking, smell the tomato plants, feel the warmth on your face and in the hearts of the good (if not flawless) people around you.
There is a strong Christian ethos/faith running through the novel, exemplified in the characters appealing to God and prayer in times of hardship. This did not feel intrusive to the plot, but instead felt like a natural part of the characterisation of the community. Strangely, whilst the ‘supernatural’ elements of coincidences and spirit presences could be attributed to this realm of miracles and guardian angels, I felt those aspects to be more paranormal than religious and was surprised at how smoothly the author wove them into the fabric of the narrative. A genuine example of the religious and paranormal being able to coexist with no dissonance!
All-in-all this is a compelling read, despite (or perhaps due to) the subverted genre expectations. There is warmth, sadness, strength and hope in the story. There are many convenient coincidences and a very neat and tidy conclusion, but these fit with the tone and style of the novel and provide a satisfying closure to the plot.
I shall be interested to read more by this author to see whether they follow a similar path, or branch in a different direction.
When he entered the front room, the first thing he saw were muddy, bloody footprints. What he didn’t see sent a cold fear up his back – he didn’t see Jenny.
– Gloria Zachgo, The Rocking Horse