The Bottom Line: A realistic and harrowing tale about children who are forced to do the unthinkable.
“We’re not seriously talking about… killing dad, are we?!” That seminal line of dialogue comes in the book’s first few pages, far sooner than one might expect in a typical thriller. But in light of Jacob Paul Patchen’s heartbreaking prologue, in which he describes his experiences working in a mental and behavioral health facility for adjudicated youth, the timing is just about right.
Strictly speaking, At Daddy’s Hands: Courage Knows No Age isn’t a revenge thriller. It’s actually a novel about survival at the hands of a monstrous father. From the get go, we understand that siblings Nikki, Tyler, and Ally suffer mightily at the hands of their Dad, Jim. Patchen’s descriptions of Jim’s volatile personality are unsettling even in the early going: “He sounded so casual, so friendly, so endearing. His voice was soft and pitched… gentle, even. A tone that they all had come dangerously to know meant quite the opposite.” Due to his profession, few would suspect that Jim, a homicide detective who solved the case of the Will’s Creek Massacre, would abuse his children sexually, physically and mentally. People like him are good at hiding it.
More importantly, we understand early on that the system has completely failed the kids. Nobody is coming to save them. Their courage and creativity are their only chance of survival.
Because the situation, stakes and even the outcome is established early on, the book’s primary suspense comes in the details of the journey. Likewise, At Daddy’s Hands can’t be compared to other novels. While the book’s core is fiction, it is literally surrounded by realism – first in the author’s prologue, and later, in multiple true accounts of childhood abuse written by survivors. The sum total won’t be an easy read for anyone, but those willing to confront the stark subject matter will come away more enlightened and educated than before. It also succeeds on another level: as a message to the institutions that must do more to protect endangered children in our society.