Welcome to my stop on the TLC Book Tour for this outstanding police procedural!Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad are best friends. They are both fifteen years old, very clever, and if truth be told, more than a bit ‘nerdy’. They couldn’t be more different, but that doesn’t matter to them. Ostracized by many of their peers, their relationship is strong and as complex as the chess moves they play. Noah Sadler has terminal cancer and comes from a privileged white family. Abdi is a black Muslim Somalian refugee. They both attend a prestigious school, Noah because his parents pay the hefty fee, Abdi because he is on a full scholarship.
We meet the boys as they walk the streets of Bristol one cold, foggy night in March. They have snuck out, and are on an adventure. However, the reader is not privy to the secrets that each boy carries this particular night. The adventure ends badly and Noah is fished out of the river unconscious. Abdi’s silence about the events leading to Noah’s accident causes others to suspect him of foul play – as he was the much taller and stronger of the two.
Noah Sadler’s parents Ed and Fiona are reeling from the latest news from Noah’s oncologist. It seems that his remission is over and the cancer is back – their son only has months to live. Now, those months are in question as their son lies comatose in a hospital bed.
Detective Inspector Jim Clemo has been seeing the police psychologist Dr. Manelli for months now. Ever since the Ben Finch case (Macmillan’s last novel “What she saw“) he has been on a mandatory leave from the police. Now Dr. Manilli has agreed that he can return to work at Bristol’s Kenneth Steele House. His first case upon returning to duty is to investigate Noah Sadler’s case.
He is paired with another officer who has a troubled history on the force, Detective Sergeant Woodley. They try to discern the sequence of events that led up to Noah’s immersion in the cold river. Noah, now comatose in hospital, cannot tell them. Abdi, traumatized into silence, cannot tell them. They fear that with the city’s recent racial rioting, that Abdi will be unfairly accused… There is a witness, but her testimony is suspect.
Jim Clemo’s ex, Emma Zhang, is now a ruthless journalist. Once a police officer, she is bitter about her expulsion from the police force and now wants to make a name for herself. Despite, or perhaps because of, Clemo’s warnings, she warps the truth to make the story sensational. In doing so, she jeopardizes the case, as well as Abdi’s reputation and well-being.
Brilliantly written, this novel is told from many different points of view. Not the least of which is the heart-rending story of Noah Sadler. Fifteen and terminally ill, he reflects on how he will never have razor stubble, how he has never seen a restricted film, never know the taste of beer… He longs to be ‘normal’. But even though we sympathize with Noah, we learn that he was not perfect…
“Sometimes it’s hard not to let other people’s misery
seep into your own bones.”
Abdi’s parents, Nur and Maryam Mahad have been in Bristol for fifteen years. Nur, a taxi-driver, believes in hope and new beginnings. He believes in the goodness of his fellow man. Maryam’s hope is lost. She lives in fear. Her memories of living in a Somalian refugee camp haunt her days and nights. She suffers from depression and has had a hard time bonding with her son, Abdi.
Abdi’s sister, Sofia, loves her brother Abdi unconditionally. Because of her mother’s inability to bond with him as a baby, Sofia stepped in – and now she loves him like a son. She works hard, studies hard, and feels loved by her family. She remembers what true hardship felt like. How when the camp flooded, they couldn’t lie down at night…
This is a memorable and well-rendered police procedural. A story which expounds on the Somalian diaspora and immigrant’s place in a society that is not always welcoming. It touches on the nature vs. nurture debate.
“Odd child out” is a strong sequel to Gilly MacMillan’s “What she knew“. I do wonder how D.I. Clemo can continue on in future novels because his empathy for people will ultimately be the end of him. His inability to maintain prospective/distance from his work makes him a prime candidate for burnout. Not so Gilly MacMillan. She is going strong and I intend to follow her along the way. Highly recommended!
Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl. She trained as an art historian and worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.