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.