Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Like many Anglophiles, I tend to enjoy stories about the British elite, especially if there is a mystery or (even better) a juicy scandal involved. So I was happy to receive a copy of Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (thanks to Atria/Emily Bester Books and NetGalley) in return for my honest review.

We first meet Kate, a criminal barrister who has just lost a case. She is eager to get back to winning, and is assigned the prosecution of a sexual crime – her specialty. The accused is an important public figure: a Junior Minister in the House of Commons named James.

We then meet Sophie, whose husband James (aha!) seems to be perfect: he is handsome, a loving father, and a successful public figure with am important government position – but he has been accused of. a terrible crime (one that sort of cries out “ripped from the headlines”). Sophie is convinced he is innocent and she is desperate to protect her family from what she is sure must be lies that are threatening to destroy her carefully constructed existence. She and James are members of the upper class, and in “…their set, where success is understood as inevitable but naked ambition considered vulgar…” they are extremely aware of their position and public image.

Kate is the consummate professional, fully aware of appearances: “Chatting with fellow counsel, or clients, with ushers, with police, we all look down from time to time, so as not to appear confrontational.” She is a single woman in her early 40s with a keen insight into the ways her position and career have impacted her as an individual and women in general. “But the truth is, women are often scared of antagonizing their assailants or they feel conflicted; not so very long ago they may have been charmed by them. And we women aim to please. It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify—bend our will to that of men. Oh, some of us have fought against that, and we’re seen as hard-nosed, difficult, assertive, shrewish. We pay the penalty. Why don’t I have a proper, live-in partner? It’s not just because I’m unsure if I can trust anyone sufficiently. It’s because I refuse to compromise. I refuse to woman up, you might say.” Kate ALWAYS wants the truth, and she is certain James is guilty and that she will be the one to be sure he pays for his crimes.

In flashback, we also meet Holly, an extremely bright student at in the early 1990s, who is even as a teenager is revealed to be an extremely bright woman who sees the struggles ahead for her: “If there was a crime worse than being bright, it was failing to disguise the fact under layers of sarcasm and thick mascara.” She goes to Oxford, and then…

Who is right about James, Kate or Sophie? Sophie has led a privileged life, yet she is well aware that her carefully managed life can be in danger. She has experienced this kind of risk, back in the days when she and James were at Oxford and she saw firsthand how easily a “prefect” existence could turn into tragedy.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s well written, and despite the slightly soap opera-ish tone, it touches on important issues, especially in the time of political scandal and #MeToo. Highly recommended. Five stars.

 

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

I’ve been a fan of Chris Bohjalian for many years…I think possibly Midwives was the first one of his that I read. Anyway, he has written a ton of good books, many of which had unique characters, settings, or situations. In addition to Midwives, I especially liked The Sandcastle Girls because I learned so much about the Armenian genocide while reading an entertaining story…and The Guest Room was another fave, for its tension and suspense while dealing with a social issue (human trafficking).

Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley, I received a copy of The Flight Attendant in exchange for my honest review – and it was great fun to read despite the ick factor that is the first thing the reader encounters.

Cassandra Bowden, aka Cassie, wakes up one morning in a hotel room in Dubai, painfully hung over, in bed with a man she just met the night before. Neither of these is rare for Cassie, whose life as an international flight attendant consists of episodes of one-night stands and binge drinking between flights. The difference this time is that the man is dead, brutally murdered, and the bed and Cassie are covered in blood. ICK!!! Not only does Cassie not know all the circumstances of how she ended up there, she isn’t quite sure whether she was the one who killed Alex Sokolov. She remembers meeting him on the flight, flirting with him, then agreeing to go out on the town in Dubai…but she has a(nother) blackout episode (a recurring event for her) and kind of freaks out. So she does what she often does: she lies. To her crewmates, to the FBI, to pretty much everyone. As the plot unspools, there are many questions about both people (was he a spy? Is this related to Cassies’s brother-in-law whose high-level security clearance has something to do with weapons of mass destruction? Who was the other woman in the hotel room?) and events (who killed him? Can Cassie trust her fellow flight attendants?)

The book is told with the alternating points of view of Cassie and that mysterious other woman, interspersed with interview reports as Cassie and others are interviewed by the authorities. The building of suspense is terrific, and I really couldn’t go to sleep til I had finished it. As usual for me, I didn’t guess the ending in advance (although I did have concerns and suspicions early on as I learned Cassie was not only a liar but a thief, getting gifts for family from hotels around the world). I really liked it, even though I went into it with my usual bias toward Mr. Bohjalian, expecting to love it. It didn’t disappoint – five stars.

Poison by John Lescroart

Poison is the 17th book in the Dismas Hardy series by John Lescroart. It begins with Dismas recovering from gunshot wounds, easing into retirement, when a former client shows up. He had defended Abby Jarvis on a DUI charge eleven years previously, and she needs help again.

With her record, finding work hadn’t been that easy, but she her friend Gloria Wagner got her a job as a bookkeeper for the extremely successful Wagner family business. Gloria is one of the four adult Wagner children, all of whom have all worked in the business for their father Grant, who has just been murdered. Dismas agrees to help Abby, who is the primary suspect. It turns out that Abby has been receiving a LOT of cash under-the-table from the company, but she insists she didn’t kill Grant. Dismas also begins to wonder whether the cash was embezzled (as the police believe), or if Abby’s claim that Grant knew all along that she was taking the cash is true.

As he prepares for the trial, Dismas investigates the Wagner family, and discovers that the lives of these four adult children include secrets, heavy sibling rivalry, jealousy, betrayal, and blackmail. As his investigation gets closer and closer to the truth, Dismas figures out that the company’s multi-million dollar market value gives at least one of the siblings motive, and realizes that he has become a target as well.

A parallel storyline involves two SFPD detectives, focusing particularly on one of them, Eric Waverly. This added narrative provides some additional procedural plotline and makes for a more interesting story.

Fans of Lescroart will love this book. With thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley, this one gets four stars.