An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.
Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And 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 rip them apart.
Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.
Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.
Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?
Fascinating and dark and compelling.
Sarah Vaughan’s story is a complex and utterly compelling tale of Britain’s upper class and the interwoven lives of those touched by a violent crime. The book seamlessly alternates between the present and the past, and tells the story of Kate, James and Sophie.
Kate is the confident prosecutor of sex crimes and is in charge of prosecuting James, a renowned British politician. James is the Golden Boy: handsome, smart, with the perfect wife and family and a promising government career ahead of him. His alleged crime resonates throughout the country and involves the highest members of government. James’ beautiful wife Sophie is at his side every step of the way, devoted and loyal to her gorgeous husband and young family.
“His blithe dismissals tumble from my mouth. Does he believe them? A politician who is so self-assured that his version of the truth is entirely subjective. His truth the one that he wants to believe? Or is this the smooth response of a liar who knows that he lies? We shall find out soon. ”
James and Sophie seem the picture-perfect family. Sophie especially seems determined to weather this scandal, so that her husband can continue with his brilliant career and so that their family can remain intact.
The courtroom scenes are brilliant and tense and riveting. From the foreboding tone of the college flashbacks, we know that things are not as they seem and that this case will be a difficult one for Kate to win. James and the victim had a relationship – James is not the perfect husband, it seems – but there seems no doubt that a violent assault took place.
“And, though I know the law does not always punish the guilty—that a skilled barrister can win even if the evidence is stacked against her client; that advocacy is about being more persuasive than your opponent—I also know that, in the court of public opinion, things are rather different and more than one morally questionable act seems more than can—if uttered sufficiently often and loudly—completely ruin a man. ”
What is the truth? Is Kate fulfilling a vendetta or is she a neutral party? And is Sophie really the perfect wife? How much can she overlook in her marriage? All is revealed in an intelligent and elegant way by the author. And the younger lives of the main characters are explored and revealed in a captivating exploration of Britain’s fairly rigid class system.
“All those lives, all those stories being played out alongside each other in libraries, dining rooms and boat houses; bars and nightclubs; museums, gardens, even punts.”
This book is especially compelling and timely in light of recent headlines and I think is required reading for anyone interested in the female-male power dynamic. The characters are all too human and are each unforgettable in their own way. Sophie battles with her conscience from the very beginning and it is fascinating to see how she evolves and finds an inner strength that even she did not know she had.
The courtroom scenes are engrossing and build to a gripping conclusion. What really happened between James and his victim? Will Kate finally get justice for her?
“For tomorrow, the press benches and the public gallery will be packed for the main event, and I will test these claims in my cross-examination. Tomorrow, James Whitehouse will give his evidence. And I shall face him at last.”
I loved the glimpse into the world of Britain’s privileged elite and the riveting legal scenes. There is a lot of British slang in this book and their university system is quite different from the US so that required a little extra research on my part. But overall this is an absolutely thrilling story that kept me on my toes the whole time. Highly recommend!
(With thanks to the publisher for a copy reviewed from NetGalley.)