Rewind four years, back to when I was a Waterstones assistant manager, and I remember cheerleading Paula Daly’s debut, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (JWKOMAY). Well, Daly has done it again with her latest novel, The Trophy Child. Once again, missing persons is her theme, but do not fear: this is not the same novel. Despite being as compelling as JWKOMAY, you are in for a treat with some brand new characters and story lines.
All the same, familiarity is a nice foil to crime. So it is good to see old faces reappear from JWKOMAY and Keep Your Friends Close, including DC Joanne Cunliffe (as likeable as ever and now a DS) and her weight-obsessed aunt, Jackie. That said, despite this continuity in characters, there is no need to read Daly’s work in order. (Yes, reader, you are free to read whichever one you like first. And in this world, with its increasing lack of freedoms, THAT is a privilege.)
So, just to confirm:
- The Trophy Child does not ruin your fun by being the third novel in a series.
- But Daly does have some other fab novels to discover once you’ve read it.
Right, then. Let us resume the task at hand.
The Trophy Child, as the title suggests, explores the effects a pushy mother can have on a child. Bronte Bloom – and let’s face it, no ordinary parent would christen her child BRONTE – is ten years old and her mother, Karen, has imposed on her harp lessons (yep, you read that correctly), extra Maths, dance, drama and a veterinary degree (ok, one of those is incorrect). Karen’s husband, Noel, is a GP who not only works long hours, but also prefers to extend his working day by doing overtime (read ‘going to the pub’ for ‘doing overtime’). Noel tends to leave the parenting to Karen, and poor Ewan, Karen’s 19 year old son from a previous relationship, tends to get forgotten altogether. The novel starts in the aftermath of Karen’s stepdaughter, Verity, attacking her, and oddly enough, relations between the two are a bit frosty.
But The Trophy Child is not about Verity’s attack on Karen. Rather, it is about Karen’s relentless ‘attack’ on Bronte, seeking constantly to improve her instead of letting her enjoy her childhood. And when it is perceived that this tiger mothering has gone too far, Bronte suddenly goes missing……..and soon afterwards, so does Karen.
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Daly’s style of writing is so natural, and she has the ability to notice the quirks of human behaviour which go unobserved by most authors. Some people may identify with Karen, although most will find her unbearable, both as a wife and a mother (I know that I was hoping for her downfall, but maybe that’s just me….). As usual, the other characters are harder to place in terms of morality, which is what makes Daly’s work so true: they are all human and they all make mistakes.
Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the review copy.