The brilliant Sophie Hannah appeared on BBC One’s Breakfast earlier this month to promote her new novel, A Game for all the Family. As always she was witty, engaging and pretty self-deprecating for a writer who’s sold stack-loads of books.
One particular anecdote stood out for me though and that was a story about her favourite crime writer, the late Ruth Rendell, who insisted that a novelist’s job is to grip the reader from line one, page one.
I completely agree. In fact it’s one of the many reasons why I was bowled over by Freedom’s Child, Jax Miller’s debut novel.
“My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter,” says the unforgettable first line of Freedom’s Child. I was hooked in an instant. How couldn’t you read on after that? Actually, the rest of the book was just as riveting, which is why I finished it inside a day.
Freedom’s Child is the story of a woman who’s spent the last 18 years living under witness protection after being arrested for the murder of her vicious husband. She’s as tough as hell, has a tongue like a razor and regularly drinks herself into oblivion at the Oregon bar where she works.
What we don’t know at the start is that Freedom isn’t her real name at all. Not only that, we soon discover that she was forced to put her two children up for adoption nearly two decades earlier, a decision that haunts her constantly.
Freedom is heading for an early grave when she discovers that Rebekah, the daughter she loved and lost, has gone missing. Galvanised into action, she escapes her handlers and heads to Kentucky, where her children were raised. Along the way, she has to contend with her vengeful in-laws, a man who slices her leg open in the middle of the desert and a terrifying religious cult.
The action is enthralling, the language gritty and the writing stunning. Every time you think you know where the story is going Miller springs yet another surprise.
Freedom’s Child was snapped up by HarperCollins in a six-figure deal and it was a smart move. In a letter to her readers Miller says that she doesn’t write from the heart – “but rather from the guts,” something she attributes to her New York upbringing. Now living in the Irish countryside, she says she had to put the story of Freedom’s Child on paper “before it killed me” and that as she did so, writing became her salvation. Thank goodness she did put pen to paper is all I can say. This is a remarkable debut novel and deserves all the plaudits it’s going to get. And please, Jax Miller, write a sequel soon.
Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller (HarperCollins, £12.99)
PS. Thank you to Mumsnet Bloggers for asking me to review Freedom’s Child.