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carmen rath wald

Carmen Rath Wald

Title: "Little Girl Gone"

Author: Margaret Fenton

Publisher: Margaret Fenton, 254 pages

Busy Claire Conover is back in the sequel to "Little Lamb Lost." She has taken a 13-year-old girl into custody after she is found sleeping behind a grocery store. The girl’s murdered mother is found at a construction site owned by a family friend, then the girl disappears. Her mother worked in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham, Ala.

Things get more complicated as social worker Conover learns of yet another murder in Birmingham as she prepares to go to work at the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Division. It is early September and Conover's desk is piled high with cases of abuse and neglect reported by teachers at the beginning of the school year. Once at work, Conover's cubical mate at the office reads the gruesome details to her. A woman’s body, with a deadly, close range shot to the head, was found on the grounds of a fancy new golf resort in an affluent suburb.

As Conover begins work, she is given yet another new case, a 13-year-old girl, found sleeping behind a grocery store. The tall skinny girl isn’t forthcoming with information about who she is, or why she was sleeping in a cardboard box. She has a fresh dye job to alter her appearance. Is she a runaway trying to disguise herself so as not to be found? Conover begins working on finding the girl placement in a foster home.

Luckily, Nettie Sandler, one of the best foster parents in Conover's book has an opening. Conover sends her toughest cases to Nettie and her husband T.J., and Nettie’s kindness coupled with her ability to make children feel at home has done wonders for scores of children. Conover gets the girl who she calls, “Sandy,” settled, but less than 12 hours later the girls runs again.

Then, Conover's boss calls her and tells her the police department has asked that she go to a home across town. When she gets there, she learns that it is the home of the murdered woman, Jean Chambless, and her daughter, Samantha, who it turns out is the 13-year-old Conover has been calling “Sandy.”

Mystery readers will find this sequel to "Little Lamb Lost" a quick and compelling read. Claire Conover navigates a web of family, friends and co-workers learning that the mother worked in an illegal gambling industry and wasn’t the model parent. Is it possible the girl pulled the trigger? Or could it be the married man with whom Jean was having an affair, or his angry wife?

When Conover uncovers a sexting situation, she asks her handsome computer scientist boyfriend to help her find some answers. A sexy reporter also works with Conover to put the pieces of the case together. Samantha doesn’t have a lot of street smarts, but she obviously knows something about the murder that has scared her into running.

The book is a revealing look into social work and child welfare. Fenton has a master's degree in social work and spent nearly 10 years as a child and family therapist and consequently her insight into social work cases is fascinating. I was struck by the courage social workers need to ask those difficult questions and put themselves in scary situations in order to rescue their wards.

With well-developed characters and a quick pace, this is an enjoyable read.

Carmen Rath-Wald was raised on the prairies of North Dakota. She lived in southern California for a few years but chose to return to North Dakota to marry and raise a family. Rath-Wald has been a Logan County NDSU Extension agent for more than 25 years.