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Sunday 2 July 2017

‘Give Me the Child’ by Mel McGrath

Published by HQ (HarperCollins),
24 October 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-00-821559-0 (HB)

What if...?  One of the fundamental questions on which all fiction is based. The what if... at the root of this tense psychological thriller involves a child. Two children, in fact, but the tension takes off with the arrival of the second.

Caitlin Lupo is a successful and reasonably contented child psychologist who runs a respected clinic, has a well-adjusted daughter she adores and also has a reasonably stable marriage. Or so she thinks – until the night her husband's love-child appears on the doorstep. That's when everything begins to spiral out of control, at breakneck speed.

At first I have to say I wasn't entirely convinced that everything would go so wrong so quickly for Caitlin – but more information emerged, and I caught on to what author Mel McGrath was doing. Or rather, what she had decided her characters were going to do. As in all good thrillers, there's more going on than meets the eye, and I'm giving no more away than that.

The narrative is set against a version of London before, during and after a riot: all too appallingly possible these days, and a background which reflects Caitlin's chaotic life and state of mind quite neatly. Middle-class households, cheap motels and an upmarket residence also form part of the scenery, and are portrayed subtly yet clearly.

The best fiction focuses on the characters, and the cast Caitlin has to deal with are all well drawn. Among the minor players I especially enjoyed Gloria, an unexpected ally from a run-down estate, and Sally, Caitlin's flamboyant sister. The two girls, Freya and Ruby, are both on the cusp of adolescence, but very different personalities; Freya is young for her age and biddable, Ruby precocious, determined and... but that would be telling. The story is told in the first person, which can make bringing the narrator to life a bit of a challenge, but Caitlin herself is very present: confused and frightened much of the time, but resourceful and with a core of steel. And Tom, her husband... I'm saying nothing about him, except he is arguably the most real of all.

This is very much a novel about people: the way they see each other, fool themselves and each other, and ultimately damage each other. The tension gathers as the narrative progresses, and though it's not edge-of-the-seat drama, it could very well keep you up later than you intend.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Melanie McGrath was born near Romford, Essex. Her books include, Motel Nirvana, which won the 1996 John Llewelyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday award for the Best New British and Commonwealth Writer under thirty-five, Hard Soft and Wet, the bestselling memoir Silvertown and, most recently, The Long Exile: A True Story of Deception and Survival Amongst the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. Hopping, the sequel to Silvertown. She writes for the Guardian, Independent, The Times, Evening Standard and Condé Nast Traveller. She is a regular broadcaster on radio, and has been a television producer and presenter. She lives and works in London.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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