Dugdall, a former British probation officer who worked with high-risk criminals, treads familiar ground in this novel about a troubled woman up for parole and the horrendous crime that landed her behind bars.
Rose was accused of setting the fire that killed Luke, a 4-month-old infant. Although Rose has always denied her culpability, the circumstances surrounding her arrest and conviction were pretty compelling. She admitted to being in the house when the fire started in the middle of the night. She also admitted she had been caught breast-feeding Luke. Working as his occasional baby sitter, the strange Rose, who had lost her own baby, fed Luke surreptitiously. The night Luke died, Rose had used her stolen key to the family home to get inside. She admitted that much but denied she set the deadly blaze, which investigators determined started with a discarded cigarette. Years have passed since the fatal fire, and Cate Austin, an experienced probation officer and young mother who has returned to work after the breakup of her marriage, must now decide whether or not to recommend parole for Rose. Meanwhile, readers re-live Rose’s troubled life and relationships through her journal entries, which record both her past and present circumstances. Dugdall’s occasionally overwrought writing and the liberal use of obscure English terms may limit the book’s appeal for American readers, but the plot is solid and never drags. However, despite the many characters that populate the pages, none come across as especially sympathetic. The author understands how to build suspense and create atmosphere and does both capably, even though many will find the book’s sex scenes more repugnant than compelling.
Well-plotted, but the story won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.