The wonderful Margot Kinberg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist introduced me to this writer and after reading the exceptional tale of Maggie, at the turn of the twentieth century, in Out of the Silence, I was eager to read a contemporary tale by the same author. If you haven’t come across Margot’s blog before, you really should pay her a visit.
Jodie Garrow is the wife of a successful lawyer Angus and she looks and plays the part; she is immaculate and in control of life, which includes her sixteen year old daughter Hannah and her younger son Tom. The couples are well-regarded in the Australian town of Arding, so much so that she has appeared on his arm in pictures in the local paper, supporting some charity or attending some event. But Jodie has a secret, one that is twenty-four years old, and as we all know a secret kept that long, if unearthed, is likely to detonate in a huge eruption. And so it is. In a set of coincidences which reveals that perhaps Hannah isn’t quite the daughter Jodie has pictured, the pair end up in a small hospital and Jodie is recognised.
When Jodie breaks the news to Angus that she procured a private adoption all those years ago his focus is on the legalities followed by a public relations exercise to keep their reputation intact. There is one problem, although the media initially print an appeal for the missing Ella Mary Jodie’s composure along with her current lifestyle means that it doesn’t take long before accusations fly and not just in the media, on the internet and in her home town too.
The reader hears the story from three separate viewpoints; Hannah’s who is fearful of being ostracised by her peers, Angus who is somewhat confused about why Jodie hadn’t told him about the child before now, and Jodie’s tale which stretches back to the 1980s, and of course the newspaper extracts which could be applied to many tales of ‘missing children’ in newspaper’s around the world over the years. The book challenges the assumption of those who watch these types of appeal that if you are not a certain type of person, you don’t dress in a certain way and most importantly you don’t act as those who are watching you imagine they would, there is something dodgy about your story. Of course none of us knows how we may act if we were caught up in a similar drama, I suspect it often isn’t how we imagine it will be. Is this Jodie’s fault?
A fascinating book and one that really did make me think because there is plenty to absorb in the plot but The Mistake is populated by interesting, if not particularly likable, characters. Angus is particularly interesting as Jodie’s revelation causes him to act in a way that perfectly reveals what he thinks is important in his life. Meanwhile Jodie responds by firmly sticking her head into the sand and shutting herself away we are also invited to examine the different standards that males and females judge each other and what is a deal-breaker in a friendship.
Wendy James has presented us with a perplexing mystery but one that asks us to reflect on our own idea about those in caring professions such as the midwife, now dead, who arranged the private adoption, the role of a mother, even one whose pregnancy was unwanted and maybe even adoption itself. For those who are interested in the role media has to play in investigations, I highly recommend this book.