The International Writers Magazine: New Children's Fiction

Rift by Beverley Birch
ISBN: 1-4052-1589-5
published by Egmont October 2006

Sam North review

Where are you Charly?

t begins with an archaeological school trip to Africa and sounds like a dream come true for the British kids who go. But four children go missing and one adult, the journalist Charlotte Turner who is documenting the trip. Days later one of the missing boys, Joe, reappears, some distance from where he disappeared. He is dazed and confused, exhausted, dehydrated and he can’t remember a thing. Not one thing about what happened to his friends. Everyone now fears the others may have already perished.

Ella, (14) back in England hears of the disappearances and it concerns her deeply. The journalist Charlotte (Charly) Turner is her sister and guardian. She just cannot sit still in England and wait for news, good or bad. She finds a way to get to Africa. Flying out the same day, she hears the news of Joe being found. She has no faith in the searchers in Africa. Charly is important to her and she must interrogate this Joe and help find her sister.

She arrives an unwelcome guest. No one wants a young kid to get in the way of a serious investigation and what can she do anyway? She isn’t sure herself but she is determined to find the investigating Detective, interview Joe in hospital and make things happen.

She finds hostility, no one thinks she has a right to be there, in the way. However Inspector Simo Murothi – the senior detective understands Ella. He is wary of her, but he has a suspicion that this obstinate British girl may help him discover what has happened.

It is very bad for the tourist industry for children to go missing, for anyone to go missing. They all have to be found, and soon before dehydration kills them. There is another possibility, that someone has abducted them but Inspector Murothi strangely does not suspect foul play – at first.

And certainly there is a malevolence on the mountain. Elissa Stratton, the English Deputy head in charge of the expedition to Chomlaya is rude and hostile. What does she know of Africa? Why has she brought all these kids from London there and why does she seem to favour some over others? Is she and her bullying ways somehow the reason the kids disappeared? Why has she locked up all the childrens’ diaries. Why are so many of the kids afraid to talk to Ella?

Ella finds her sister’s diaries buried in a secret place (so that Mss Stratton wouldn’t find them) and hopes this will reveal the reasons for the mystery. All the terrible things Miss Stratton did to the children are in there and Ella discovers that Charly is almost talking to her on these pages, but will it help them find her?
Ella is aware that with each hour the kids and Charly are missing brings them closer to death.

What really happened to Joe still back at the hospital unable to remember anything. Another conversation with him and indeed he remembers something, a tiny detail, but it is enough Ella hopes.

Rift is an extraordinary book written by Beverly Birch, who has an enormous affinity with Africa and its people. Inspector Murothi is a wonderful, intelligent character, all wise and wily an African Morse. An excellent creation, perhaps worthy of his own book one day.

Ella, the driven fourteen year old, who has good instincts,personal drive and a fierce determination to find her missing sister is a wonderful role model. And find her sister she must, else she’d be given up to care back in England.

The atmosphere is full of dread and doom, the investigation is built up in layers using interviews, diaries, little revealing incidents and everything points towards a growing evil within the camp – all emanating from the tyrannical Miss Stratton.

Ella and Inspector Murothi intend to chip away at the truth to find the missing children. They talk to the children and the other teachers, all of whom seem afraid of Miss Stratton. Then, suddenly, another child, Matt, is found exhausted, also suffering from memory loss and disorientation.

Just what is happening in this part of Africa? Who is taking the children and why? Where is Charly in all this? Who is doing this!

Rift is a great, tense, vivid investigation novel with extraordinary characters in a beautiful, remote setting – a powerful, compelling read.

© Sam North August 2006
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