Title: The Trophy Child by Paula Daly
Publisher: Grove Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 386 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Paula Daly is acclaimed for her distinctive voice, masterful plotting, and terrifying depictions of ordinary people whose everyday lives are turned upside down through deception and murder. In her unsettling new domestic thriller, The Trophy Child, Daly digs beneath the serene surface of the idyllic suburban Lake District community where families strive for perfection, delivering a suspenseful, surprising story of motherhood and fallibility.
Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighborhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.
Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behavior. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.
A thrilling tale of ambition and murder, Daly’s richly imagined world of suburban striving and motherly love is an absorbing page-turner about the illusions of perfection and the power games between husband and wife, parent and child.
The dysfunctional Bloom family takes center stage in Paula Daly’s latest release, The Trophy Child, a gripping investigation into the disappearance of ten year old Bronte.
Following Bronte’s disappearance on an outing with her sixteen year old stepsister, Verity, “tiger mom” Karen quickly alienates her family, the police and the public with her withering accusations and rude comments. Ignoring the woman as best as she can, Detective Sergeant Joanne Aspinall and her newly assigned partner Detective Sergeant Oliver Black continue their search for clues to Bronte’s whereabouts. Joanne has no doubt that Verity’s account of the day her little sister went missing is truthful but she cannot discount the teenager’s recent troubles with her stepmother. Joanne is also keeping her personal connection to the girl’s father, Noel, a secret from her boss and her partner. When Bronte eventually returns home unharmed and with a somewhat vague account of her whereabouts, the investigation reaches a dead end. However, Joanne and Oliver are soon back at the Bloom’s when another person from the house goes missing. This investigation has a very different outcome than the previous one and Joanne has to take a hard look at everyone in the Bloom household, including Noel, Verity, Karen’s son Ewan and Ewan’s friend Dale. Will Joanne and Oliver uncover the truth about who is responsible for this latest disappearance?
Based on their outward appearance, the Bloom family seem to have everything going for them. Patriarch Noel is a successful GP with a lucrative practice whose second marriage to Karen seems to be happy. But beneath the surface, there is a high degree of dysfunction and no shortage of misery within the family. Noel drinks a little too much and works long hours, rarely interacting with his wife or children. Verity has recently gotten herself into a situation that involves weekly drug tests and counseling. Ewan is a slacker with little ambition and a fairly impressive pot habit. Bronte’s schedule is so full of activities and tutors that the poor girl has no time just to be a child. Karen is an overbearing, ambitious and pushy mother who makes everyone’s lives miserable. Everyone feels a great deal of sympathy for Bronte and they search tirelessly for her when she goes missing.
Following the second disappearance of someone from the Bloom home, Noel immediately contacts Joanne for assistance which raises a few eyebrows including Oliver’s. The two detective sergeants are soon searching for clues but they are soon at a dead end. With very little evidence to go on, their investigation raises more questions than answers, but neither of them are quite ready to give up. While Joanne decides to take a second look at the circumstances of Bronte’s disappearance, Oliver broadens his search and uncovers a vital clue that takes the case in a very shocking direction.
The Trophy Child is a riveting police procedural that fans of the genre do not want to miss. Paula Daly has chosen a disturbing parenting trend to focus on and with Karen Bloom, she has created a detestable character whose ambitions for her child border on abuse. The rest of the characters are realistically drawn with both positive and negative traits that are easy to relate to. The disappearances and subsequent investigations are compelling with plenty of red herrings and plot twists that will keep readers guessing right up until the novel’s somewhat dramatic conclusion. An absolutely spellbinding mystery that is fast-paced and quite interesting. Highly recommend.