Written by Robyn Harding — Frances Metcalfe is at an all time low. She’s overweight and unhappy, and when her son Marcus, who has ADHD, takes revenge on a classmate by secretly peeing in her water bottle, Frances finds herself ostracised by all the yummy mummies waiting for their little darlings at the gates of the elite Forrester School in Seattle.
Then along comes Kate Randolph. She’s beautiful, stylish and doesn’t give a damn what the others think. Best of all, she wants to be friends with Frances too. Their sons become buddies and the friendship grows. Soon Frances and Kate are best friends forever. But both women have secrets, and we crime fans know they’re not likely to stay secret forever.
As well as son Charles, Kate has an older daughter. Daisy is 14 and at the rebellious stage – pretty easy to accomplish when your mother doesn’t seem interested any longer. She tries to sleep with one of her fellow pupils, and that has disastrous consequences as the boy retaliates by spreading malicious lies about her. Now Daisy is rebellious AND an outsider… a toxic combination.
She’s also lonely, so she’s ripe pickings for an older man who seems all too friendly and kind. Naive Daisy think she’s found an ally but as our alarm bells ring, she is in danger and doesn’t even know it.
Things are about to get mighty complicated, with three distinct storylines developing and at first there’s no sign of things interconnecting. To confuse matters even further, interwoven through it all is another sorry tale. More than 20 years ago, a 15-year-old girl vanished from her home in Phoenix. Later, Courtney Carey was found dead – badly beaten and brutally raped – and the perpetrators of the act won both notoriety and prison sentences. It’s another building block in a story that’s set to exercise those puzzle muscles – just where does this nugget fit into the stories of Kate and Frances?
Her Pretty Face has a very attractive cover, its lower case title, lipstick smear and tube of lipstick presenting an overall image more in keeping with a dose of chick lit. But don’t be fooled. This may only be Canadian screenwriter and author Robyn Harding’s second novel but she certainly knows her way around a bit of tricksy plot work. Her characters are spot on too, with feisty, rebellious, deeply vulnerable Daisy a stand out. At first Frances and Kate may appear all too predictable, but just like the book’s cover it’s best not to take things for granted here and there are plenty of twists in store before the whole sorry picture is revealed.
Robyn Harding’s first novel, The Party, won plaudits and this slice of domestic noir is a compelling follow-up. At the heart of this book is Daisy. She already thinks her life is in turmoil, but little does she know what’s in store. In a book filled with things that are not quite as they seem, Harding has the depiction of a vulnerable young girl hiding behind a mask of cockiness bang to rights.
Her Pretty Face is inspired by a true crime involving rape, torture and murder which shocked Canada in the 1990s. Anyone who recalls the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka may think they have a handle on what’s about to happen in this fictional version, don’t be so sure. Instead, sit back and enjoy the ride in a book that does its darndest to keep the reader off balance throughout.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars