Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

jwkmoayThere is something very combative about the title of this book. It demands that you pay it closer attention. ‘Just What Kind of Mother Are You?’ Voicing this question aloud is one of middle England’s most sacrosanct taboos. Let’s be honest, you don’t ask this question to find out whether they’re a hommous and breadsticks kind of mum. In a world where offspring rivalry defines everything, the question is like a cudgel to the head, yet most of (parents) us ask it internally every day. Sometimes of other parents (‘What? Really? They can have two?’, as no parent has uttered to another, ever.), but more usually of ourselves. In the modern world to fail one’s children is life’s biggest crime, and its a crime we’re obsessed with.

Too many sweets? Not enough clubs? Too many clubs? By them an iPad? Take them to Legoland? Organic or Processed? MMR or homeopathic? From the moment our children are born, we place them on pedestals. We want them to have everything and want to be everything to them. Some parents cope with this better than others, or as Paula Daly points out in her novel, some appear to cope better than others.

Lisa is a working Mum of three. She works tirelessly for a dog charity. There’s not enough hours in the day and certainly not enough money in the bank. Staunchly loyal husband, Joe, is a taxi driver. Whilst he is by no means an absent father his presence is unpredictable. With so many balls to juggle, occasionally Lisa drops one. This time her simple error has disastrous consequences. She was meant to pick up a friend’s child and have her stay the night. By the time she realises she’s forgotten, Lucinda has been missing for 18hrs.

That is the elegant premise of JWKOMAY? Just the thought of it instils dread. How could you face the parents? Your own children? How do you carry on with the day-to-day? How can you help? How should you interact with the police investigation?

What follows is a smart, snappy whodunit that’s menacing yet unsensational. The story flits between viewpoints. We follow Lisa as she crashes around trying to make things better. She has been friends with the family for a number of years, but there’s some previous tension there too. Tensions that immediately resurface. DC Joanne Aspinall adds the procedural element of the story. I really liked her as a character. She is tough but human, and best of all she’s not derivative. She picks away at the case, taking the view that its nearly always the family. It yields interesting results.

The final contributor to the story is the kidnapper. We are treated to a few omniscient observations of his thoughts and actions that genuinely creeped the hell out of me. Too many books these days go for gore and depravity. These pieces are just the wrong side of normal, and all the more disturbing for it. They reminded me of Frederick Clegg from ‘The Collector’. Updated and pacier for a modern crime fiction audience.

The story as it unfolds is exciting, but not exceptional. There are a couple of coincidences that I felt were unnecessary, and the plot as a whole, although unexpected, was a little far fetched. But that’s OK, because, like the best crime novels, this book isn’t all about the crime. It’s about the people and the crime’s ramifications. The depiction of the chaos of modern family life is spot on.

Above all, this book is about cutting ourselves some slack. Relax, you’re not the only one making a hash of it, we all are. Every picture of perfection has a flaw behind it. JWKOMAY? is an ode to the relentlessness of modern motherhood. I’m a stay at home Dad and could recognise many of the characters and attitudes present in the book.

This book put into perspective that no matter what else my wife does, first and foremost she’s a Mum. That’s why she’s the one sorting stuff out after a long day at the office whilst, I read and write reviews. It’s not that I’m lazy, my day is hard work too, but somehow she sees all the things that need doing, when I can only hear the call of the kettle. On finishing the book, I gained further respect for the wonderful job that she does. A job that, as Paula Daly is all too aware, she thinks she’s failing at. I should help her more…

This gentle insight is what sets Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? apart from the field. This is a fine debut that should grace many beaches over the summer, and fill countless book groups with heated discussion.

Many Thanks to Alison at Transworld for an advance copy of this book. 

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