This debut novel by Ruth Dugdall is not always an easy read. For the most part the narrative comes from Rose Wilks, a woman serving an eight year term for the manslaughter of a baby. The remaining narrative comes from Cate Austin the probation officer assigned to compile a report for the parole board who are to consider Wilks for release. The opening chapter and the three that follow are quite important as it raises questions in Wilks' guilt or innocence. Means and opportunity for the crime are there - but motive? As Rose Wilks continues her narrative while some things become clear so other suspicions begin to dawn. Is Rose envious of her partner's ex? After all Emma has all the good looks; married to a successful man and with a healthy son. A son that Rose was found guilty of killing. Emma and Rose meet in hospital where they both give birth to boys. Unfortunately, Rose's boy dies but not before she realises that both could pass as brothers and have the same father. There is no doubt that Rose was in Emma's house with Emma's boy shortly before the fire that killed him. But...... On the other hand there is divorced mother, Cate Austin, who has suffered bad depression and has returned to work. She has been assigned to the women's section of Bishop's Hill Prison and her first case is to write up a report on Rose Wilks for the parole board. Or, in the words of her boss Paul Chatham 'It's a parole report on a nonce.' (A nonce being a child abuser/killer). The problem here is that Cate is a mother and a professional. All Cate wants is for Rose to accept 'responsibility for her actions'. Rose refuses to do that on the grounds that she would do nothing to hurt a child. And there is a moment when Cate has some empathy towards Rose that is short lived. When asked if her report will influence the parole board, Cate says that it will be their decision. There is so much in this book that it is difficult to say much without throwing in a load of spoilers. And this is a debut novel. The 'stars' of this book Rose Wilks, Emma Hatcher and Cate Austin are well drawn.
Ruth Dugdall's next novel 'The Sacrificial Man' is due out 25th June 2011.