Review: The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

Review by Luanne Clark

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, this novel of historical fiction presents the case as it may have been experienced by the Lindbergh nanny, Betty Gow. Betty came from Scotland, following a man she expected to marry. 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. Instead, Betty’s society includes the housekeepers, butlers, cooks, valets, chauffeurs, groundskeepers and handymen of the wealthy and famous family. Each 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, 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 kidnapper’s demand a ransom and Lindbergh and the police start the work to get Charlie back. Again, Fredericks seamlessly melds the actual facts of the case with the lives of Betty and the other servants. <SPOILER ALERT> 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 near to the family. Was it a butler that drinks too much? Her poverty-stricken Norwegian boyfriend? 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!