Book review: Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath

Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath
Give Me the Child by Mel McGrath

When her husband’s 11-year-old love-child turns up on her doorstep one hot London night, Cat Lupo must decide whether she could ever give the now motherless girl a home.

But as the events behind Ruby Winter’s shock arrival start to emerge, Cat fears that her attempts to help this strangely unsettling child have put her own precious daughter at risk.

Award-winning author, journalist and co-founder of the Killer Women writing collective, Mel McGrath sends shivers down the spine in this explosive, high-tension psychological thriller set against the violent and corrosive backdrop of the 2011 London riots.

A dark and disturbing page-turner, Give Me the Child is a stunning yet sensitive exploration of a family in meltdown and a city in crisis, drawing upon the latest research in adult and child mental health to ask uncomfortable but important questions about how much we know about our partners, our children… and ourselves.

Dr Cat Lupo, an expert in child personality disorders, longs for another child. Her daughter Freya, now aged 11, was born through IVF but her arrival was overshadowed because Cat suffered pregnancy psychosis, a ‘wild paranoia’ so severe that she had to be put into a special unit in the weeks leading up to the birth.

When her husband Tom’s 11-year-old love-child turns up in the middle of the night, Cat is understandably devastated by the shocking discovery that he had a one-night stand while she was in care before Freya’s birth.

However, Cat’s instincts as child psychologist kick in and, knowing that Ruby is now alone because her mother is dead, she feels sorry for the girl and agrees that she can move in with them for the time being.

But she soon realises that Ruby is not like her own sweet and innocent daughter; Ruby possesses a kind of ‘force field’ which makes being close to her unsettling and as the events behind her mother Lilly’s death in their south London flat emerge, Cat fears the sinister girl is a threat to Freya’s safety.

Cat’s research tells her there is no such thing as evil, her history tells her she is paranoid but her instincts tell her another story. And as the police fight to control a sudden outbreak of riots raging across the capital, Cat faces a race against time of her own…

Thrillers featuring dysfunctional families have always had a seductive appeal and McGrath plays on every parent’s deepest fears as Cat desperately tries to separate suspicions about her own tendency to paranoia from the very real and shocking possibility that Ruby harbours a genuine malevolence.

There is terror aplenty in the suggestive power of McGrath’s narrative as we contemplate the thorny concept of evil and follow Cat’s hunt for the truth about Ruby, her mother Lilly, her evasive husband Tom, and dark secrets from the past.

The constant contradiction between Cat’s professional knowledge and experience, and her fears and emotional reactions, are superbly depicted as McGrath draws her readers deeper and deeper into the claustrophobic intensity of the unfolding drama and a crumbling marriage.

Juxtaposed against the social unrest that is stalking the streets of London, this emotive and compelling tale of a family facing its own turmoil is a cracking thriller, packed with wisdom and insight, and one that will haunt long after the last page has turned.

(HQ, hardback, £12.99)