Book Review: History comes alive in compelling, intimate novel ‘The Lindbergh Nanny’ | Explore Yakima

The Lindbergh kidnapping case has fascinated the American public since its occurrence in 1932, and author Mariah Fredericks uses that fascination to bring us a truly entertaining and provocative take on the case. If you aren’t familiar with the Lindbergh case, be forewarned: This review contains a SPOILER! IF YOU AREN’T FAMILIAR WITH THE CASE, QUIT READING THIS REVIEW AND JUST GO GET THE BOOK. YOU’LL LEARN EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE KIDNAPPING IN ITS PAGES.

For those of you who are familiar with the kidnapping, “The Lindbergh Nanny,” a novel of historical fiction, presents the case as it may have been experienced by the Lindbergh nanny, Betty Gow. Betty comes from Scotland, following a man she expects After she is jilted in Detroit, she searches for work and lands the nanny job with the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his young family.

Fredericks does an admirable job of melding the facts of the Lindbergh household with her own fictionalized accounts of the servants and their lives. Even though Betty is employed to look after Charlie, the young son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, these famous figures are peripheral to Betty’s story of her. Instead, Betty’s society includes the housekeepers, butlers, cooks, valets, chauffeurs, groundskeepers and handymen of the wealthy and famous family. All of these servants have interesting backstories and each can be seen as a potential villain in the upcoming crime.

When Charlie goes missing, everyone is a suspect. Charlie was taken on her watch from her, so Betty is forced to endure intense scrutiny. She is questioned relentlessly by the police and her reputation is smeared in the press. She’s accused of negligence, or being the “moll” of a Detroit gang. Even the innocent summer fling she had with a Norwegian sailor becomes a torrid affair in the tabloids.

The kidnappers sue a ransom, and Lindbergh and the police start the work of getting Charlie back. Again, Fredericks seamlessly melds the actual facts of the case with the lives of Betty and the other servants. When the baby’s body is found, Betty is devastated. And angry. She loved little Charlie and she is determined to expose the kidnapper. All evidence points to the fact that it must have been perpetrated by one of the household staff or someone close to the family. Was it a butler that drinks too much? Her poverty-stricken Norwegian boyfriend of hers? A gambling chauffeur? An upstairs maid with loose lips and mob ties? A groundskeeper with a grudge?

“The Lindbergh Nanny” is compelling. I went into the story knowing the facts and yet I was utterly entertained. It’s fast-paced and still character-driven. Fredericks ends her book with an appendix describing the life of the actual Betty Gow. If you are a fan of historical fiction, this is one that I recommend. Happy reading!

• “The Lindbergh Nanny: A Novel” by Mariah Fredericks was published by Minataur Books on Nov. 15. It retails for $27.99 in hardcover.

• Luanne Clark is an education specialist and bookseller for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in Sunday’s Explore section.

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