Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Book Review: THE TROPHY CHILD by Paula Daly

The Trophy Child

Title: The Trophy Child
Author: Paula Daly
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Read: November 2016
Expected publication: 7 March 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Paula Daly is acclaimed for her distinctive voice, masterful plotting, and terrifying depictions of ordinary people whose everyday lives are turned upside down through deception and murder. In her unsettling new domestic thriller, The Trophy Child, Daly digs beneath the serene surface of the idyllic suburban Lake District community where families strive for perfection, delivering a suspenseful, surprising story of motherhood and fallibility.

Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighborhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.

Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behavior. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.

A thrilling tale of ambition and murder, Daly’s richly imagined world of suburban striving and motherly love is an absorbing page-turner about the illusions of perfection and the power games between husband and wife, parent and child.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed Paula Daly’s previous novel The Mistake I Made, so was excited to receive a copy of her latest murder / mystery from Netgalley. As with the previous book, The Trophy Child is set in the idyllic Lake District, far removed in my mind from dysfunctional families, murder and mayhem, but a wonderful armchair travel location to get taken to.

Daly’s latest novel again deals with the mistakes people make and their consequences. Karen, who is a “tiger mother” and generally not a very likeable person, has not only made her daughter Bronte’s  life miserable by constantly pushing her to be an overachiever, but her relationship with her son Ewan and her husband Noel also leaves much to be desired. Not to mention her stepdaughter Verity, who is receiving counselling by a psychologist after actually trying to strangle her stepmother. Therefore, when Karen is found murdered and dumped in one of the idyllic lakes in the area, there are suspects galore – it seems that Karen has even alienated and upset random strangers to a point where their murderous tendencies were ready to surface.  And whilst a lack of suspects is never a good thing, DI Joanne Aspinall has her work cut out with too many potential murderers to choose from. This is further complicated by the personal history she has with one of the suspects, which is slightly clouding her ability to stay totally impartial.

Personally, I found the title, The Trophy Child, a little bit misleading, as the mother / daughter dynamic is only one of the features in this tale about an extremely dysfunctional family, the Blooms. Noel, the cheating, absentee father who only married his second wife Karen because she (“accidentally”) fell pregnant during an extramarital affair whilst he was still married to his first wife Jennifer, now in a nursing home with end-stage MS. Karen, the “tiger-mother”, who is pushing her youngest child to the brink of breakdown by asking her to be a prodigy even when according to her teachers she is just an normal little girl with no outstanding talents. The three children, Ewan, Verity and Bronte (honestly, who calls their child that?), who have various problems as a result of the strange family dynamics and with support from either parent sadly lacking.  Yikes! A Brady Bunch they are definitely not! Therefore, when the murder finally happened I didn’t shed any tears for the unlikeable Karen, except that I found her husband Noel equally loathsome. Not only did he stand by and watch his wife push his youngest child to the brink of madness, but he was also sanctimonious enough to think it was perfectly acceptable to have extramarital affairs because he was bored / unhappy / unfulfilled in his marriage/s – boo-hoo! I was therefore mostly disgusted that anyone would fall for this smooth talker – at the cost of my respect for one of the other characters in the book. At least he should have gotten his just-desserts in the end! Anyway, with my blood thus brought to boiling point, the author achieved the coveted highly charged emotional response, which keeps readers reading on and gives fuel for great bookclub discussions.

All in all, The Trophy Child was an enjoyable read, even though it did not grip me quite as much as The Mistake I Made – mainly due to some of the characters, who were sadly lacking in any redeeming features in my opinion. If you enjoy murder / mysteries centring around dysfunctional families that may appear quite normal on the outside, then definitely give this one a go. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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