The Blurb On The Back:
Sophie’s husband, James, is a loving father and a successful public figure. Yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to engulf him. She’s kept his darkest secret ever since they were first lovers, at Oxford. And if she stood by him then, she can do it now.
Kate is the barrister prosecuting his case. She’s certain that James is guilty and determined he should pay. No stranger to suffering herself, she doesn’t flinch from posing the questions few want to hear. About what happens between a man and a woman when they’re alone: alone in a bed, alone in an embrace, alone in a lift …
Is James the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding or the perpetrator of something sinister? Who is right: Sophie or Kate? This scandal – which forces Sophie to appraise her marriage and Kate her demons – will have far-reaching consequences for them all.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Sophie Whitehouse lives a comfortable life. Her husband James is a junior Home Office minister tipped for the top (in part due to being a good friend of the prime minister) and they live with their two young children in an exclusive part of London where they are a firm fixture in the dinner party set. And then scandal breaks: James has been having an affair with his parliamentary aide, Olivia Lytton. The newspapers gleefully report on their trysts in the House of Commons, focusing on a sordid act in a Commons lift. Angry and humiliated, Sophie is nevertheless prepared to weather the storm. James made a mistake – not his first – and they have the children to think about.
Then Olivia goes to the police, accusing James of rape.
Kate Woodcroft is a barrister, a QC at the top of her game and known for her preference to take prosecution cases against those accused of sexual crimes. She believes Olivia’s claim that James raped her in the Commons lift and is determined to prove it to the jury, even though she knows the odds on getting a conviction in he said/she said rape cases.
Forced to resign as a minister, James is fighting to clear his name and for his political career. Sophie knows what’s expected of an MP’s wife and that she should stand by him. The only problem is that she knows his darkest secret from their student days in Oxford, she knows what he’s capable of and it all goes back to the events of 1992 when James belonged to a dining group called the Libertines …
Sarah Vaughan’s thriller combines court room drama with political intrigue to gripping effect using two strongly drawn female characters whose lives have taken very different paths who are drawn together by one man and a story that – despite a couple of elements – kept me guessing until the end while dealing sensitively and intelligently with the issues of prosecuting sex crimes.
I enjoyed the distinction that Vaughan draws between Kate (a single career woman and divorcee) and Sophie (a woman who always knew she would marry a successful man and be a supporting wife). They each have individual narrative voices and their own view of the central figure of James (a plausible, charismatic politician who remains physically attractive and terribly charming) which helps drive the narrative forward. I found the Sophie sections to be particularly well done as she veers between her belief in her husband and her determination to do right by her family with her rage and hurt at his betrayals and the ever-so-slight doubts that begin to creep in. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Sophie’s days at Oxford University and her relationship with James, which are intertwined with the memories of a fellow student, Holly Berry from Liverpool – the first of her family to go to university and who finds herself overawed by the surroundings – and although I guessed some of the twists that come out of those flashbacks, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment or my desire to find out if I was right. It’s impossible to read the scenes with the Libertines and their antics without thinking of the Bullingdon Club but Vaughan does try to give some insight into the thinking that drives people in that set, which helps to create further shades of grey when thinking about James.
Vaughan is eloquent and sensitive when dealing with the difficulties of prosecuting a sex crime – especially where the evidence comes down to a he said/she said on whether consent was given – and it’s clear that she did her research on the legal system and advocacy as she establishes what a barrister’s role is and how that has little to do with the actual truth.
If I had a criticism it was that the final quarter of the book is a little too neat and a little too fast-paced as Vaughan reveals James’s secret and how that ties in with both the current case and the other flashback scenes – it wasn’t poor, I just wanted a little more room to breath. I also thought that the final chapter lacked plausibility given the nature of James’s secret and I wondered whether there was a degree of wishful thinking going on there (although it did not spoil my enjoyment).
All in all, I thought this was a strong thriller and I look forward to reading more of Vaughan’s work.
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL will be released in the United Kingdom on 11th January 2018. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy of this book.