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Monday 29 October 2018

‘The Rival’ by Charlotte Duckworth

Published by Quercus,
6 September 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-78747-093-4 (HB)

Motherhood is about as far as it's possible to get from crime – but some employers still treat pregnant women as if they're committing some kind of transgression against the company. And not only employers. In Charlotte Duckworth's tense and often moving debut, it's not only the bosses but also a fellow employee who uses her colleague's vulnerable state as a means of hoisting herself up the corporate ladder – or is it?

At first Helena and Ashley get along fine; Helena works hard to be the kind of manager who uses the carrot rather than the stick to encourage her staff, and Ashley's fierce ambition ensures that she works hard and makes every effort to impress. But it's that ambition that eventually starts to come between them, and when Helena finds herself unexpectedly pregnant things start to go very wrong.

Duckworth has created two richly layered characters at the heart of this emotional scenario. On the surface Ashley is self-seeking and driven, willing to do just about anything to further the career she has carved out for herself – but a damaging past threatens to break through that tough carapace, and it's hard not to feel sympathy for her even when her self-interest hurts other people. Helena loves her job and wants to succeed, but not at other people's expense; she doesn't want pregnancy and motherhood to stand in her way but is overtaken by both hormones and events.

The novel is set-in two-time frames, and the setting for each is well drawn: the fast-moving corporate environment, and the more relaxed country village where everything slows down except the traffic. The recent past strand charts the two women's early relationship, and the present timeline reveals how Helena's life has developed since things began to go wrong. She holds Ashley responsible, but there are hints that perhaps that isn't quite the case; and when the truth finally comes to light it will bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened thriller reader.

By the end I was asking myself if thriller was the right description for this meticulously charted account of a working partnership going horribly wrong. I felt desperately sorry for Helena; in particular, one chapter close to the end is heartbreaking. But Ashley was deserving of some fellow feeling too; is ambition really such a crime? There's tension between them, and an element of mystery as the real situation slowly unfolds, but my jury is still out on whether the crime shelves are really the right place for this well written, beautifully constructed novel.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Charlotte Duckworth has spent the past fifteen years working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their young daughter. You can find out more on her website.

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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