Transworld | 2018 (ebook: 10 December; hardback: 27 December) | 312p | Review copy | Buy the book
When her little boy Alfie is bullied at school, single mother and estate agent Joanna Critchley makes the difficult decision to move from London to the small seaside town of Flinstead. She fortunately finds another job quickly and it’s certainly useful to be living so close to her mother, a handy babysitter. But Alfie continues to find it difficult to fit in. To help him, Joanna knows she must try harder to get on with the clique of mothers who wait at the school gates.
They’re not an easy group to penetrate, with their book clubs, parties and babysitting circles, and so Joanna, almost without thinking, blurts out a particularly juice bit of gossip she’s heard – that Sally McGowan, a woman who years before, as a child, murdered a little boy, lives in Flinstead. Everyone knows her name will have been changed but that makes the mystery all the more tantalising. But, as the gossip begins to spread and women start to be suspected, Joanna realises what a dangerous can of worms she’s opened, especially when she starts to get hate tweets on Twitter – ‘Rumours can kill’. It’s too late.
As we follow Joanna around the community, we get to know a range of woman, most of whom are at the age when they could conceivably be the hated and notorious child killer Sally McGowan. There are so many red herrings and possibilities. More than once I thought that I’d worked it out but I’m so pleased to say it actually kept me guessing until the very end. This doesn’t happen often so this is very good news!
But aside from the mystery, we have the human story of Joanna and Alfie as they try to make a home for themselves in this new town. I loved the depiction of Alfie and his best efforts to make new friends while coping with the situation they’re in. The Rumour paints such an engaging portrait of a small community dealing with the spread of paranoia and suspicion while exploring the difficulty of trying to fit in. The whole novel, though, is overshadowed by the spectre of Sally McGowan and the terrible crime she committed. Can such a woman ever put the past behind her? And when names have been changed, lives have been rebuilt and reshaped into the unrecognisable, how can you ever know who you can trust?
The Rumour is such an entertaining read. I read it in two sittings during the course of one day. It’s one of those books when you read one short chapter, you immediately have to read another. There is something rather salacious about its subject matter and theme, which did slightly put me off, and, at the start the style is rather jumpy and unsettled, but I’m so glad I persevered. The book does settle down during the second quarter and the large number of raving reviews are definitely deserved. It is an utterly addictive read.