This twisty thriller (400 pages) was published in October of 2018 by Emily Bestler Books. The book takes you to to posh London. Melissa read Anatomy of a Scandal and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
If you like stories about rich people problems and bad dudes getting their just desserts, this courtroom drama, swirling with British politics (and chilly politesse), is for you. It’s got love and lying, retribution and righteous rage, all set against the backdrop of some of the most iconic buildings in London.
Sophie and James are the definition of golden couple. He’s a handsome, charismatic junior minister in the British Home Office. She is beautiful and intelligent, ‘someone whose life has been as bright and solidly precious as a fat gold ingot.’ The two met as Oxford students, and now they’ve got two adorable children and a lovely home.
One night, Sophie’s all dressed up and waiting for James to arrive home. They’ve plans to attend a friend’s party. But James is late. James is never late without calling, so Sophie is relieved when he finally walks through the door. But something is wrong. He looks grim. Then he delivers a shock: He’s been having an affair with a younger female coworker, and the news is about to break.
Sophie is stunned and hurt. But she believes her husband when he says the affair is over, and they present a united front to the press. Then James’ mistress accuses him of rape, and the drama heads into the courtroom.
The story jumps back and forth in time — from today in London to student days — and it’s told through the shifting perspectives of the golden couple and Kate, the barrister prosecuting the case. She specializes in sex crimes and is on a mission to nail James to the wall.
This could have been a standard legal procedural, but the author Sarah Vaughan does a few things that amp it up. First, the settings in Oxford and London are very vivid. Vaughan studied English at Oxford and wrote for the British daily newspaper The Guardian, covering the political beat for 11 years. So she knows the halls of Oxford colleges and the House of Commons from the inside.
Another thing Vaughan does very well is press on your prejudices about promiscuity, extramarital affairs, consent, entitlement, and loyalty. Consent and blame are clear when the rapist is a masked stranger, but, as Kate points out early in the book, ‘Juries are keen to convict the predatory rapist, the archetypal bogeyman down a dark alley, yet when it comes to relationship rape, they’d really rather not know, thank you very much.’
Finally, this book is a master class on alternating narratives: the suspense is high throughout, and the twists keep coming until the very satisfying, believable conclusion.
I look up at the high ceilings of my chambers. A set of rooms in an oasis of calm in the very heart of London. Eighteenth-century, with ornate cornicing, gold leaf around the ceiling rose and a view – through the towering sash windows – of Inner Temple’s courtyard and the round twelfth-century Temple Church. This is my world. Archaic, anachronistic, privileged, exclusive. Everything I should – and normally would – profess to hate. And yet I love it. I love it because all this – this nest of buildings at the edge of the City, tucked off the Strand and flowing down towards the river; the pomp and the hierarchy; the status, history and tradition – is something I once never knew existed; and to which I never thought I could aspire. All of this shows how far I have come. — Sarah Vaughan
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