#SheReviews: Taken by Dinuka McKenzie

August 14, 2023

Police investigations in Australia are overwhelmingly intense, concerted and arduous in nature. There is undeniably little margin for error concerning a just result – for victims, their loved ones and the community at large. In short, the police in this country work in a ‘firm’ that is highly pressured, has high stakes and mostly goes unthanked. Such brutally sobering truths are brilliantly exhibited and examined in stellar Australian author, Dinuka McKenzie’s, latest spectacular crime thriller novel, Taken.

Set in the picturesque and verdant environs of the Northern Rivers fertile and lush land of New South Wales, most particularly in the moderately sized fictional township of Esserton, the novel’s sinister trajectory is established early on.  Detective Sergeant Kate Miles is back in the ‘force’, stationed at Esserton Police Station, after taking leave for a few months following the birth of her baby, Amy. Kate is tenuously (at times) married to the outwardly supportive, yet inwardly frustrated and resentful (?) Geoff (on paper a freelance architect, yet in reality a full-time stay at home dad to Amy and four year old son, Archie). Kate feels that Geoff is “letting her know, if she was in any doubt, who was doing the parental heavy lifting in their household. While she was busy solving other people’s problems, Geoff was at the coalface of their own family”.

Kate and Geoff are seemingly hanging on by a thread not only in their once golden marriage (due in no small part to the unforgiving, relentless and dangerous vagaries of Kate’s job and Kate’s postnatal anxiety) but also financially. This is despite the fact that Kate’s father, Arthur Grayling, the ex-chief inspector of Esserton Police Station, generously gifted Kate and Geoff an eye-watering $200 000. Now back in the fray of investigative policework, Kate is charged with leading the distressing, murky and turgid investigation into the abduction of baby Sienna Ricci.

Elissa Ricci (who had called the police out to her property the previous day, fearing there was an intruder), tells police that on the day following her initial call to police, she saw that her baby, Sienna, had been taken from her bassinet whilst Elissa was in the shower. Aaron Ricci, Elissa’s real estate agent husband, was at a conference at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast at the time of the abduction (or was he?). Rayna Gardiner,  Elissa’s ever-hovering mother, had taken Elissa’s seven year old son, Daniel to school. Elissa may have left the screen door open.

Assisting Kate in the search to discover what actually did happen to baby Sienna is the internally simmering and subtly sabotaging Detective Josh Ellis, and the loyal, level-headed and consistent Constable Roby. The ever-seeing and ever-knowing Inspector Skinner of Esserton Police Station keeps close tabs on his subordinates with a relish. Adding undiluted mayhem to the sordid mix is the fact that Elissa’s violent and abusive ex-partner, Jason Veliu (father to Daniel), is on the police radar as a suspect in the abduction of Sienna, but is also being investigated as a result of his physically abusive interactions with current partner, Lena.

Who took baby Sienna and why? Is Aaron capable of taking his daughter, particularly when police discover he was not at the conference when he says he was on the Friday morning Sienna was taken? Is Jason, known to be physically abusive to Elissa when they were ‘together’, exacted revenge on Elissa by stealing her baby? Who is Aaron’s secret lover? Who can be trusted and who should be under a cloud of suspicion?

What is the shocking scandal that threatens to swallow up Kate’s father? Where did Kate’s father really get the $200 000 from that he so decently (?) gave to Kate and Geoff? What is the history between Leading Senior Constable Darryl Murchison and Kate? Why does Kate see him as an ever-encompassing threat? Can Kate ever bond with her baby daughter, Amy? Can Kate and Geoff ever meet halfway? Can Geoff ever truly accept the fraught and treacherous nature of Kate’s job?

Dinuka has written a crime novel full of intelligence, wisdom and cautionary observations. Taken is a cracking read that sizzles with deeply permeating twist after twist. Characters are expertly written as flawed and believable.

Being set in an Australian locale (the Northern Rivers of New South Wales) that I have been through, I could easily picture the locations so excellently described by Dinuka. Bravo Dinuka! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with Taken (a follow-up to the crime novel, Torrent. Though Taken can be read in isolation). I loved Taken, and look forward to reading whatever Dinuka writes next.

Purchase the novel here.

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