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Wednesday, 15 March 2023

‘The Wrong Mother’ by Charlotte Duckworth

Published by Quercus.
16 March 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-52942-300-6 (PBO)

Charlotte Duckworth’s previous domestic noir thrillers have all been peopled with richly drawn characters who have problems, secrets and difficult backgrounds. This one is no exception; in fact it takes the complex interplay between its protagonists to a whole different level.

Faye is on the run from Louis, baby Jake’s father, and flees to rural Norfolk carrying the week-old baby, a few clothes and very little else except ten thousand pounds in cash. We soon learn that she met Louis via a co-parenting app, for men and women who are desperate for a baby but not necessarily a relationship, but don’t want to go it alone. The catch was that Louis didn’t want a relationship, just an heir for the family business – but Faye found him overwhelmingly attractive, and was heartbroken when he didn’t feel the same. She rents a room from Rachel, who is lonely and glad of the company, and falls in love with baby Jake.

Except it’s not that simple. Of course it isn’t. No one is quite what they seem; everyone has something to hide.

The story unfolds in two time frames: the present, when Faye is sharing Rachel’s cottage, and a year ago, when she met Louis and her mundane life changed completely. The two strands contrast with as well as complement each other. In the present, both Faye and Rachel hardly leave the cottage, creating a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. Rachel seems to have no friends and is clearly harbouring secrets. Who exactly is Brian, the man she claims is her son? Why is the back garden a jungle when she is so particular about the house? And what happened to her previous lodger? Faye hasn’t divulged her real name, and is clearly more uneasy with baby Jake than a new mother should be. And what is the medication she hides in her suitcase and keeps forgetting to take?

In the past, Faye has a career as a music teacher, and was once a concert pianist. She has a sister, whose children she often babysits, and a friend she meets for drinks. All that’s missing is the baby she craves – and that’s where Louis comes in. He is rich, handsome, and leads a glamorous life which includes the opera, expensive restaurants, and a Kensington apartment complete with housekeeper, all of which he is happy to share with Faye, at least at first.

All the locations are portrayed in highly visual detail too: Rachel’s kitchen, pristine except for the green tendrils creeping under the door from the overgrown garden; Louis’s opulent living room with the zebra-striped Steinway grand piano; the black mould on the wall of Faye’s basement flat; her sister’s chaotic but comfortable house. All the characters and a host of minor ones live and breathe and interact, and naturally the secrets eventually spill out and every question is answered – but not without tragedy for some. Thankfully there are happy endings too.

Charlotte Duckworth is becoming name domestic noir fans look out for. The Wrong Mother is her darkest and most chilling novel to date and will keep you reading until all the threads are untangled.
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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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