The Mistake I Made – Paula Daly

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BLURB: The Mistake I Made is the latest page-turner from one of the England’s most captivating new thriller writers. In her provocative and riveting third novel, Paula Daly focuses her masterful eye for psychological suspense and family drama on an indecent proposal that has fatal repercussions.

Single mother Roz has a reached breaking-point. After the dissolution of her marriage, Roz’s business has gone under, debts are racking up, the rent is late (again), and she’s struggling to provide for her nine-year-old son, who is starting to misbehave in school. Roz is in trouble. Real trouble.

When Roz returns home from work one day and finds an eviction notice, she knows that it’s time for action—she has two weeks to find a solution otherwise they will be kicked out of their home. Increasingly desperate, Roz doesn’t know where to turn. Then the perfect opportunity presents itself. At her sister’s fortieth birthday party, Roz meets Scott Elias—wealthy, powerful, and very married. But the impression Roz leaves on him is indelible. He tracks her down and makes Roz an offer to spend the night with him—for money. He wants no-strings-attached intimacy and can guarantee total discretion. Could it be as simple as it sounds? With that kind of cash, Roz could clear her debts and get her life back on track. But as the situation spirals out of her control, Roz is forced to do things she never thought herself capable of. Can she ever set things right again?

I’d utterly forgotten I was meant to be reviewing this book I read a couple (er, several) weeks ago. Myself and a few other female bloggers with whom I’m friendly (and who, like me, clearly have no other plans on a Friday night!) did a “buddy read”, if that doesn’t sound too American. I think I was probably the last to finish, on Sunday morning, but it was fun and it’d be good to do again. We are all fans of Paula Daly, author of Keep Your Friends Close (read) and Just What Kind Of Mother Are You (have; unread.) Paula’s work is what is commonly-known as domestic noir – don’t yawn, she’s one of the best proponents. Why? Well, priumarily it’s her characters – they’re real. They’re not perfect. They’re funny. They’re bright, capable, qualified. But they f*** up, for a variety of reasons – blame some on the Fates, some on circumstances or crappy luck, and some, to a certain extent, on their own denial. It’s a perfect storm, and our protagonist’s at the centre. Roz is a physio, and she’s skint. She’s also a single parent (with a feckless ex, whose cheeky charm I could just about see the attraction of, although I often shook my head…) In the past, Roz had borrowed a considerable sum of money from her parents’ in order to start up her own physiotherapy practice. However, due to the recession, Winston (the ex) was paid off, the marriage went down the pan, the practice went bottom up, their house was repossessed, and she’s still paying off all Winston’s unsecured debts. Her parents ended up unable to enjoy the retirement they’d saved for. Her sister Petra and her husband Vince have helped her out a bit in the past too, but Petra has warned her their parents can’t be put under additional stress, financial or otherwise. By now Roz is employed by a physiotherapy chain, working longer hours further away for less money, and bringing her 9-year-old son George up pretty much alone. However, at Petra’s birthday party Roz meets Scott Elias, a married man in his early 50s, who makes his interest in Roz plain. He makes an urgent appointment at Roz’s clinic, asks her to go for a drink, which she refuses. The next day he returns and says, “I’d like to pay to spend the night with you”.

At this point, Roz has had her furniture repossessed, and George has been caught stealing at school as he’s aware of their problems. When the final straw is about to hit the camel’s back, she relents (although possibly she knew, short of a miracle, she’d always have to, in the end.) But she’s disgusted with herself…

Of course, the money doesn’t last long, and Roz is soon seeing Scott again. It’s a dangerous situation – they live in the Lake District, a rural area, where, as I know from childhood, it’s pretty much impossible to keep a secret. But her desperation outweighs her reservations. Add in the added complication of Scott and his wife Nadine being friends socially and you just know that it can’t continue.

So when someone finds out, and then a murder is committed, Roz realises just how out of her depth she is…

Daly excels at these “wolf in sheep’s clothing” / charming psycho – call them what you will – characters; as does she the “everywoman” in an impossible situation, making the reader ask themself how they’d react. The men are generally slightly gormless, as well as led by their dick, so there’s accuracy right there – we recognise that type too (some of us may be in a relationship with one; I’m not, I’m happy to say, although he is crap at some things…I jest, obviously!)

This is one for when you’ve a night in or a day off, as you really don’t want to put it down without discovering what fresh hell is in store for Roz – I wouldn’t have put it down, except I’d Important Stuff to do. Plenty of humour and natural dialogue make it a real joy to read, too, and you’ll fly through the pages. They also add to the feasibility of the story. The only downside will be waiting on the next Paula Daly.

And girls, let’s do a group read again sometime very soon!

For fans of Colette McBeth, CL Taylor, Samantha Hayes, Paula Hawkins.

Very highly recommended.

Many thanks to the publisher Corgi and NetGalley for allowing me access to an early proof of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Good Girl – Fiona Neill

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BLURB: The Number One bestselling author is back with a dark, compelling and controversial novel of one family’s darkest secrets.

Fallen in love?
Yet for straight-A student Romy, Ailsa’s teenage daughter, there’s no escaping the intense attraction she feels towards their youngest son, Jay.

Trusted a stranger?
So when Jay tells Romy his darkest secret, she only wants to help.

Destroyed your family?
But Romy’s actions could be the catalyst that tears her world apart…

I gulped this novel down in one 24-hour period, over two sittings, despite the fact that it’s a 470 page book. However, it’s a fast read, and I didn’t feel that it flagged at any point. There was enough going on for me to keep turning the pages doggedly into the small hours. Fiona Neill is best known for her “Slummy Mummy” columns in The Times, and the book that followed, but this is very different, although her sardonic eye for detail, as well as her trademark humour, is intact. It’s the story of the Field family: mum Ailsa (hyper-organised; ambitious at work – she’s a secondary school headmistress; keeps the family running smoothly – but who’s keeping an explosive secret); dad Harry (neuroscientist; drops in quite fascinating facts about the brain at any opportunity; a good dad, especially with Romy, who shares his passion for science. He loved his job as a lecturer in London – so why did he leave it to relocate to Norfolk with his wife for her new job?); son Luke, who, next to his sister, comes across as a total slacker with more interest in bedding girls than passing exams; daughter Romy, the “good girl” of the title, who becomes distracted with the arrival of an attractive new boy who moves in next door; and lastly Ben, a precocious – but not irritatingly so – nine-year-old, who is somewhat obsessive about collecting strange things and fancies himself as a spy.

And just as Romy and Ben start to wonder about the inconsistencies in their parents’ story of why they had to move to Norfolk, the new family arrive next door, the Fairports. Romy is instantly drawn to Jay, the youngest of the two brothers. However, Ailsa isn’t so keen on the family – Lovedale and Wolf are successful sex therapists, who take a very relaxed view to parenting. They plan to build a “sweat lodge” in the large back garden and run sexual healing retreats, which as you can imagine, is the sort of idea practical Ailsa finds ludicrous.

With Ailsa preoccupied at work, and Harry and the rest of the family enjoying the Lovedale’s company, the stage is set for a string of events – a domino effect, almost – which end in disaster, and are partly initiated by the lies told by Ailsa and Harry regarding the move, despite the fact they were only trying to protect their family.

There are also some other great characters – Ailsa’s dad Alan, mourning the death of the wife he feels he treated badly throughout much of their marriage, moves in, drinking too much and driving Harry, who’s trying to write a book and is left to cope with him all day, to distraction; and Rachel, her sister, who tries to shirk her responsibilities to her father, still resentful for the way she feels he treated her mother, leaving Ailsa with even more on her plate. She also has a disastrous track record with men, which is compounded when she starts dating someone a bit too close for Ailsa’s comfort.

Neill has a fine understanding of families and the different dynamics within them, and this is one reason why the book is such a pageturner. When describing Ailsa looking for an alternative for her father when it becomes clear he is no longer safe living alone, she writes,
“…she reluctantly flicked through a couple of brochures for old people’s homes with optimistic names that belied the fact that they were places where people went to die. Ocean Heights. The Pastures. Sunshine Dreams. With all their talk of staff ratios, singing groups and puréed food they sounded like the nursery schools she had scouted for Ben in London.”

Ultimately the book is a salutary warning about the dangers of social media and internet pornography. As Jon Ronson showed us in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, these things are like genies – once they’re out of the bottle, they’re impossible to get back in.

This is a compelling read, and I can easily see it being one of the big hits for late holidays. In fact, even if you’re staying at home, I’d suggest you grab a copy. I rarely get through a book so quickly, so that speaks for itself. I just couldn’t put it down.

Recommended for fans of: Paula Daly, Liane Moriarty, Nicci French standalones.

My copy was supplied by Penguin Random House and Mumsnet in exchange for an honest review.