Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan: A most exciting, impressive and thought-provoking psychological thriller - book review -

Hospital doctor Liz Trenchard has always thought of her friend Jess as an exemplary, loving mother… but a suspicious head injury found on Jess’s baby daughter sets alarm bells ringing.

Little Disasters
Little Disasters

Hospital doctor Liz Trenchard has always thought of her friend Jess as an exemplary, loving mother… but a suspicious head injury found on Jess’s baby daughter sets alarm bells ringing.

Sarah Vaughan, whose blistering debut novel, Anatomy of a Scandal – a dark slice of contemporary legal and political noir – became an instant bestseller in 2018, is back to chill and thrill readers with a gripping, tension-packed exploration of the shadowy side of motherhood and friendship.

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In a seamless move from political scandal to domestic drama, Vaughan’s emotionally powerful third novel delivers a brutally honest and psychologically astute story about the recognisably authentic fears, anxieties and anguish of those notoriously difficult and trouble-strewn early years of parenting.

At its heart are two women who have forged a decade-old friendship through their shared experiences of pregnancy and motherhood but whose bonds are sorely tested when secrets from the past are revealed, duty is forced to come before friendship, and one of them becomes the focus of a devastating police investigation.

A senior registrar in paediatrics at a busy London hospital, Liz Trenchard is called down from the children’s ward one night to examine a baby girl who has been brought into the A&E department.

She is shocked to discover the mother of ten-month-old Betsey is Jess Curtis, the woman she first met ten years ago when they both attended antenatal classes and struck up a friendship which has endured, on and off, through the birth of Liz’s son and daughter, and Jess’s three children.

Since the birth of Betsey, Liz has drifted apart from Jess, who is married to Ed, a hedge fund manager whose high-pressure job often involves him working long hours, but working mum Liz has always considered stay-at-home mum Jess to be an exceptionally good parent with boundless reserves of patience, energy and love.

When Liz finds a swelling on the back of Betsey’s head and a subsequent scan shows she has a fractured skull, Jess seems evasive and defensive about how the baby suffered the injury and as a doctor, Liz knows that the police and social services will have to be informed.

But as dark thoughts about Jess and carefully guarded secrets begin to surface, Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend… and about herself.

Vaughan digs deep into the recesses of troubled minds in a tension-packed story which grips from the shocking and deeply disturbing prologue right through to the final, jaw-dropping twist in its devilishly clever tail.

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Each character in this intriguing and often terrifying odyssey is exquisitely drawn as the plot – rich in emotional intuition and hidden truths – thrusts readers into the pain and despair of a scenario which must surely be every mother’s nightmare.

Along the way, Vaughan dares to ask important questions about the mental pressures and lofty expectations of parenthood, and offers answers with compassion, empathy and an insight that can only come from personal experience.

Unsettling, compelling and brilliantly written, Little Disasters looks set to be one of 2020’s most exciting, impressive and thought-provoking psychological thrillers.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £14.99)