Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Daughter – Jane Shemilt

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

This book will strike fear into the heart of any mother, especially those with teenage children. After all how much could you really tell the police about your 15 year old daughter’s life? Are you like Jenny and think that you know her friends? Do you know what she is doing right now?

Jenny’s nightmare begins one November day when her youngest child Naomi fails to come back from a meal out following the penultimate night of her performance as Maria in West Side Story. As Jenny and her husband Ted are plunged into a world which no-one wants to visit they begin to realise that maybe they don’t know enough about Naomi or her older brothers, their twin sons, Ed and Theo.

The structure used to tell the story pinpoints the day of the disappearance and then introduces narrative a year into the future, x amount of days before or after, so it is very clear which point of the story you are reading. After the initial introduction both the days following the investigation in Bristol and Jenny’s time spent in Dorset a year later are told chronologically in tandem, thereby dragging the reader into the midst of the disappearance and then into the realities of life one year on.

Although this is crime fiction it is also a narrative on secrets that are kept within families, and not just those between the parents and children and the device used of moving the story backwards and forwards ekes the secrets out over the course of the book which increases the tension and the anguish.

There is much to admire within this book but the nature of the heart of the novel means that the narrative is pretty bleak, with little in the way of light relief as Jenny contemplates her role in Naomi’s disappearance. With typical mother’s guilt she continually questions the amount of time she devoted to her children, her staunch assertion at the start that her children were growing with space to grow now coming back to haunt her. Jenny is a GP and an artist and her husband, Ted, is a neurosurgeon who works hard and comes home late and I think the fact that she feels she should have done more rather than blaming him or anyone else is fairly typical. Some may feel the author was making a point about working mothers, but I think this is simply an accurate reflection of life, whenever something happens the mother shoulders most of the guilt, deserved or not, and Jenny is naturally re-examining her actions in light of the newly exposed secrets.

One surprise in this book is that the Police don’t even mention social media, Naomi’s phone is rung by her mother but is switched off, and no forensic work seems to have been done to track its movements, instead clues are read in Naomi’s diary. This gave the book a slightly unreal feel, as if her disappearance was some time before 2009.

As is often the case in books where we learn a lot through words rather than actions the suitable ending is the most important part, I liked this one but I wouldn’t be surprised if others disagree with me. I will definitely be looking to see what Jane Shemilt writes next.

I am grateful to the publishers Penguin UK who allowed me to read this book in return for my honest review. Daughter will be published on 28 August 2014 and I’ll be interested to see what you think. This book has lots of interesting discussion points and would work well as a book club read.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

20 thoughts on “Daughter – Jane Shemilt

  1. Cleo – This does sound like rather a bleak read. That said though, I agree with you that it’s almost second nature I think for mothers to blame themselves when something bad happens. I think that going back and forth in time is an interesting choice. Sometimes it works well….sometimes not. It’s good to hear that you had no trouble following along with the timelines. Your review is, as ever, excellent, but I’m not sure I’ll read this one soon – I may have to wait until I can read something that sad….


    1. I was really impressed with the time switches, as you say if not handled well this can be confusing and this one wasn’t. This is a really interesting book and with plenty to discuss if read as part of a group but quite sad.


  2. Totally get your comment re the police not investigating social media or using GPRS to try and pinpoint where her phone was when it was switched off – it’s the first thing they do on tv dramas, or in real murder investigations. Perhaps it took her some time to write the book – I read the author is also a GP so she’s obviously a very busy AND bright woman! I’ll leave this one for now – mainly as I’m on a book buying ban! And I’ve got a pile of notes that need to be constructed into comprehensible reviews!


  3. I’m not looking forward to the teenage years. And then there’s enough trouble at top universities and how reports of rape are being handled. I hope I’ll be as patient with my kids as my mum was with me.


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