CriminOlly thinks: Unconvincing domestic noir with few thrills and some questionable politics. 2/5
Title: The Mothers | Author: Sarah J Naughton | Publisher: Trapeze | Pages: 288 | ISBN: 9781409184607 | Publication date: 9th January 2020 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: Yes
‘The Mothers’ is the kind of book I normally avoid, so please bear that in mind when you read my allergic reaction to it below. This sub-genre, which I’ve seen termed ‘domestic noir’,is incredibly popular at the moment, if bookshop shelves and my Instagram feed are anything to go by . The easiest way to describe it is to say that it features crime stories based around the everyday lives of normal women. Put like that it quite appeals to me, and I can certainly think of many books and authors it fits that I have really liked. Natsuo Kirino, Megan Abbott, Shirley Jackson and so on. The problem I have with this modern wave of British (and all the ones I’ve read have been British) domestic noirs is that they feel like they’ve been pushed out by publishers to satisfy the market, rather than because they have real merit. That might feel like a strange thing to say given my love of pulp paperbacks, but being a pulp fan is really about separating the wheat from the chaff. ‘The Mothers’ is definitely chaff.
The central concept is one that’s typical to the form. A diverse group of women who have met through antenatal classes and maintained their friendship over the first years of their children’s lives find themselves embroiled in a mystery. The husband of one of the women has vanished, and a plucky young police woman is on hand to investigate. Things ramp up further when a further disappearance takes place. As is often the case with this kind of thing, the story is then told largely in flashback, with a gradual build up to the crimes.
This might have been an okay read but for three major problems. Most critically, at times the mystery element feels completely forgotten about and we’re treated instead to endless descriptions of coffee dates, drinks evenings and the boring minutiae of everyday life. I get that some of this is necessary to build the characters and establish the relationships between them, but god was it dull to read.
Secondly, the eventual plot lacks any credibility at all and has some major holes. The main detective misses some pretty massive things and doesn’t seem motivated at all to crack the case. In fact there is an ongoing joke between her and her boss that she only wants to solve the mystery so that she doesn’t have to attend a diversity seminar.
Which brings me to my final point. The book is kind of nasty. When I introduced Tolerance Warnings I expected to be using them for nasty old pulps from the 60s and 70s, not crime novels from 2020. Yet I’m adding two for this book. I won’t go into details for fear of spoilers, but there is a white middle-class vibe about the whole thing which left a bad taste in my mouth.
All in all then, this is one to avoid. There is a glimmer of light at the end, with an okay twist, but even that is problematic as it relies on one of the items I’m adding a Tolerance Warning for.
They meet at their NCT Group. The only thing they have in common is they’re all pregnant.
Three years later, they are all good friends. Aren’t they?
One Missing Husband.
Now the police have come knocking. Someone knows something.
And the trouble with secrets is that someone always tells
Content Warning: Alcohol abuse, domestic violence, miscarriage, rape, post natal depression
Tolerance Warning: Potential racism. Classism