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About The Takers and Keepers

On the nineteenth of April 2008 in Austria a woman and her children emerged from twenty-four years of underground captivity. 

The emergence of Elizabeth Fritzl and her whitened family from a home made bunker constructed by her own father, the revelation that he had kept her incarcerated beneath his own house, that he had fathered her children and taken some of them up to the light to be his own seemed to truly define the sordid depths to which humanity can sink. 

Before her, Natascha Kampush had escaped from her captor, a stranger abductor who had held her in a secret basement for 3096 days. After her escape he killed himself, whereas Elizabeth Fritzl’s father was tried and remains in jail. Before both of them Sabenne in Belgium and Elizabeth Smart in America had endured their own long term abductions. And of course we had had our own nightmarish case of abductions (and, in this case, murder) in the UK by the demonic Fred West and his wife.The run of such cases seemed to end in America with the discovery of Jaycee Dugard living in her captor’s back yard after eighteen years, with two daughters by her abductor. But did it?

During those years a seemingly new and disgusting crime had revealed itself, the kidnapping and long term holding of children. Of course, children  had always been kidnapped and murdered, but this seemed like something new. I was shocked to find public video footage of the rescue of the Dutroux victims who are filmed crying on a dark street outside his house, surrounded by police. In contrast, Elizabeth Fritzl and her family have never been photographed or made any public appearance. Duggard and Kampush have written books along with several of the West children.

The genesis of my novel, Takers and Keepers, was the passing thought that there must be more victims, others who will emerge. I was interested in the strange human darkness at the heart of this abomination.

It was neither a new fascination for me nor an entirely new crime. I had been fascinated with the deliberate disappearance of innocents since reading Nunca Mas, the Argentinian government report into the disappeared of the dirty war. The disappearances and reappearances themselves were perhaps foreshadowed in the story of Kasparov Hauser, the boy who appeared with tales of being held in a dark room. 

While none of these cases had much in common, there seemed to be a thread of holding young people against their will for extended periods of time. I decided to write about this subject and I invented the Takers’ and Keepers’ Club to provide a framework for an imagined network of abductors and abductees. It took me over ten years to bring the book to fruition.

Of course, implying that there are more victims held in cellars and basements is a dark thought, even if almost certainly true. There are many missing people, children and others, who have potentially fallen to the Takers and Keepers, who are being kept. When Jaycee Dugard was discovered it was said that this should give hope to the parents of other disappeared children. I’m not sure that this is a good line of reasoning.

There is nothing new in the emergence of children or adults from incarceration in the dark. The story of Kaspar Hauser, a boy who emerged in Germany and claimed to have been kept by a stranger in a celler, may be an originator of these dark stories of children kept in darkness and released with one line of language. The genre may stretch further back, through folk tales as those collected by the Grimm brothers, to folk memories of life in caves and the darkest woods. Even now, hidden people regularly emerge around the world, though they tend not to make the headlines in the way that Europeans do.