A handsome British politician—also the prime minister’s oldest, closest friend—finds himself on trial for rape.
Sophie Whitehouse adores her husband, James, a junior minister in the British Home Office. Watching him leave with their son and daughter one Friday morning, “she feels a stab of love so fierce she pauses on the stairs just to drink in the tableau of the three of them together." But James is uncharacteristically late coming home that night, arriving only to confess—in advance of the tabloid headlines—that he’s had an affair with his assistant, Olivia. That would have been enough to shatter Sophie’s world, but 11 days later, he’s arrested; Olivia has filed charges of rape. James’ trial brings together two formidable female barristers, one of them Kate Woodcroft, “a highly experienced specialist in prosecuting sexual crimes; forty-one years old; divorced; single; and childless,” and for the defense, Angela Regan, just as determined to see James go free as Kate is to see him found guilty. And both women know this depends far less on the truth than on their adversarial and persuasive skills. As the trial proceeds, seen alternately from Kate’s, Sophie’s, and James’ points of view, a second storyline unfolds in the early 1990s featuring a character named Holly. Holly is studying English at Oxford, as was Sophie; James is there, too, and his friend Tom, the future prime minister. All of them are involved in a nasty series of events that is not revealed until the end of the book. When the secrets finally come out, there are a few jarring details, but the momentum of the story thunders over them. Because the author leaves room for readers to consider for themselves the issues of consent and intent in rape, particularly in partner rape, this novel is a strong choice for book clubs.
Former political correspondent Vaughan makes an impressive debut with this savvy, propulsive courtroom drama.