Margaret Fenton,
Little Girl Gone: A Claire Conover Mystery
(CreateSpace, 2015)

Long ago, on cold winter nights when the fires burned low; most people had no media to entertain them before they went to bed. Work never stopped, and as they spun wool into yarn, repaired tack or completed other chores, they told stories to one another. Maybe these families had a holy book of some kind out of which to read, but with candles being very dear, stories were told by firelight. Many of these stories had the shivery textures of mystery, lost children and dire subtexts. With the advent of the printing press and its many descendants, and as people traveled, stories spread throughout the world.

Not surprisingly, for many of us, despite the many changes in our modern world, the lure of a good mystery lingers on. Thus, in Margaret Fenton's Little Girl Gone, a story is told that has an added twist in that the detective is a social worker. And as a trained social worker myself, this added an element of interest in this mystery story.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, the story is set at the start of a new school year. Many social workers are hard-pressed to find uniforms, supplies and food for young people they serve. Their caseloads are swamped with previous clients, and more are added as many transient students are new to a particular school district. Runaways are a challenge, and in Little Girl Gone, Claire Conover, social worker and sometime detective, is assigned to a runaway teen, possibly a homeless girl, who refuses to talk to anyone, despite the subtle tells she gives off when she learns that a local woman was found murdered.

Despite the legality of gambling casinos in various parts of the country, there are many illegal card games and other gambling pursuits that make it difficult to pursue the criminals that run them. In Little Girl Lost, not only is there the relentless shuffling of figurative cards in the death of a key figure in the homeless girl's life, but also a likely case of child pornography in the mix. Claire, along with an investigative reporter not only interested in Claire, but also a story that will put him on the map, leads the reader down a number of dark avenues that open wide the shameful use of children as a commodity, and the difficult and exhausting world of a social worker. That Fenton was a social worker who worked with children for a number of years, and uses her own knowledge and experience to write this unique account of one child in the system, makes for a true blue perspective into the core that is the world of a social worker, and the many real problems that make their job so hard, and often frightening.

book review by
Ann Flynt

7 October 2017

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