At Reid’s the students wore exactly the kind of uniform you would expect them to: the prefects black, billowing gowns; Years 7 to 11 brightly coloured striped blazers, the girls long pleated skirts. They used to wear straw boaters in the summer months but these were jettisoned after a series of stealth attacks from the kids at the local comprehensive school in which the hats ended up in a variety of places – once, on the head of a boarding mistress’s horse, its long ears sticking out through holes that had been cut in the top. For the most part the pupils of Reid’s stayed out of trouble and the school was able to maintain its untarnished reputation.
For the most part.
commentary: What a joy to find a great new author – I loved this book. The Trophy Child is a cross between a police procedural and a domestic thriller, with some unexpected joys and surprising characters, and it made me laugh when it wasn’t making me wince, and worry for the protagonists. It’s like a cross between the books of blog favourites Elly Griffiths and Liane Moriarty – and that is very high praise.
Meet the blended family of Noel and Karen Bloom: each has a child from a previous relationship, and they have one child together, a daughter Bronte. Daly sets this going very quickly and clearly – we see that Karen is a Tiger Mother, pushing Bronte to endless achievements and new subjects via a terrifying schedule. She has more or less given up on the other children, teenagers Verity and Ewan, but there has been an incident in the recent past, involving violence. Now, as the family re-groups, Verity takes Bronte out for a walk. And – every parent’s nightmare – Bronte disappears.
It would be wrong to reveal more of the linear plot than that (though I will just offer the reassurance that this is not a gruesome book, and the danger to children is done in a very careful way) – but it’s a complex and satisfactory story. It’s also quite a cheeky one, for a reason that would be a spoiler… So: very clever plot. At times I thought it was sinking too much into giving us a domestic story, but Daly triumphantly brings it all back in the end – I had been truly bamboozled.
And the picture of life for the characters is wondefully well-done, and hilarious.
Karen, the pushy parent, is a cartoon figure really – she is the least convincing as a real person, but she’s such a joy for Daly to write about that we can forgive her. At one point another pushy parent, Pia, is trying to find out if her son has taken drugs with Karen’s son:
As far as Karen knew, Hamish was too much of a goody-goody to smoke even tobacco, but she went right ahead and said ‘I’m sure it was only once or twice…’Her husband Noel is a great creation too: he is so far from perfect that he has a charm of his own. When his in-laws are coming on an urgent desperate visit because of the various disasters that have struck the family, he
Poor Hamish, thought Karen. The kid could deny it for the rest of his days and Pia still wouldn’t believe him.
wondered idly if perhaps [mother-in-law] Mary would bring a fruit cake- this was possibly, weirdly, my favourite line in the book, because it IS how people really think and behave. Whereas in most books it would be a clear indication that Noel is a narcissist or a sociopath or possibly a killer, in this case it is just another sign of his general outlook of life. (He may well be a guilty party – I’m not spoilering – but the cake incident is not a clue either way.)
The investigating policewoman is Joanne Aspinall, another terrific character, who is thunderstruck to find she has an unexpected connection with the case, but soldiers on bravely. (The book wanders among different points of view, and all of them are very enjoyable and well-done – but this means we don’t get as much of the investigators’ views as in a full-scale police procedural.)
I particularly enjoyed her thoughts about increasing obesity in the world:
Most of Joanne’s colleagues today couldn’t run; they were short of breath after climbing the station stairs. And for a time this had concerned Joanne. How on earth would they catch anyone? That was until she realized that most criminals were also too fat to run away from the police. She’d watched some footage recently of the miners’ riots in the 80s. Men as old as 50 hightailing across fields, vaulting over fences. That would never happen today.The setting in the Lake District is nicely done and very real too, and there are some interesting comments on child-rearing and how we position our children with regard to outside activities.
So all in all – nothing but praise for this one. I am looking forward to reading more by Paula Daly.
The school the children attend is old-fashioned, but not - obviously – quite as old-fashioned as the picture above, which was taken in 1930. But I couldn’t resist this portrait of Australian schoolgirls: ‘St Mary's College tennis team at Charters Towers. The girls hold tennis racquets and are dressed in school uniforms with blazers, ties and hats’. It’s from the State Library of Queensland.