I love a good psychological thriller so I was keen to get stuck into Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica (author of The Good Girl). Here’s the blurb:
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
Heidi Wood has always been a charitable woman: she works for a nonprofit, takes in stray cats. Still, her husband and daughter are horrified when Heidi returns home one day with a young woman named Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Disheveled and apparently homeless, this girl could be a criminal—or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi invites Willow and the baby to take refuge in their home.
Heidi spends the next few days helping Willow get back on her feet, but as clues into Willow’s past begin to surface, Heidi is forced to decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into a story far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.
Captivating and intense, Pretty Baby is one of those books that’s hard to lay aside once started. The story alternates between the viewpoints of Heidi, her husband Chris, and Willow, revealing their motivations, secrets and desires, leading to a tipping point that’s hard to predict. Heidi, described by her husband as a ‘bleeding heart’, appears to be motivated by a desire to help others, but as Chris, Willow and the reader finds, her motivation is far more concerning.
Chris, who feels that his marriage is in a rut and is fighting an attraction to another woman, is concerned by Heidi’s choice to house Willow and her baby, but is unable to break a pattern that’s longstanding. And Willow is motivated by a mixture of fear and protectiveness – just how much and why is chilling.
Caught in the middle is Chris and Heidi’s pre-teen daughter, Zoe, who’s at an age where she both craves independence from her parents but doesn’t want anyone else to have their attention. Her response to Willow and the baby is predictable – she’s surly and resentful – and while this is typical of a child her age, it also seems to come from somewhere deeper, as if she senses something in the situation no one else does. As a mother, I could understand the causes of her childish behaviour and felt inclined to give a little leeway.
It’s a well-structured read highlighting themes of loss, abandonment, child abuse and social welfare that held me captive for a few hours. If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers, this one’s worth a look.
You can read a chapter sample here.
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