Book review: Just What Kind of a Mother Are You?

By Paula Daly

Just what kind of mother are you?

Paula Daly gets the action moving on the first page with a creepy man watching young girls on their way home from school. You just know nothing good will come of this. This taut page-turner of a novel, set in England’s fabled Lake District, home to twee villages, Beatrix Potter bunnies, and dreamy Wordsworth poetry, torques every parent’s nightmare.Everyone’s attention is suddenly diverted from their Kendal Mint Cakes when Lisa, harried working mother of three, messes up big time: her chaotic life screeches to a heart-thumping halt when a child—not hers, but her best friend’s—disappears on her watch. Oh, and there’s a serial rapist on the loose.

Lisa makes a bit of a hash trying to set things right, enduring public humiliations and private recriminations. None of us want to be in her Wellies, and while we can’t resist the itch on the brain that asks, “What sort of a bonehead loses someone else’s child?”— deep inside we know perfectly well that we could all be that sort of bonehead.

Daly has a gift for realistic, snappy dialogue, She shifts the action between a series of well-drawn female protagonists and moves the narrative from first-person to third-person to keep the reader slightly off balance. Gradually, the veneer of perfection and capability that underlines this tale gets destroyed by an infestation of lies.

This story is as much about cornering a criminal as it is about aiming a light on the human knack for acquiring martyr complexes, an affliction that sticks to all the characters in varying degrees. During the course of her bumbling attempts at finding missing Lucinda, Lisa uncovers something far more pernicious, something you don’t see coming. As one character admits, “We all want everyone to think our family’s perfect, that we got it right.” To what length would any of us go to to prove that?

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