Title: The Accusation
Author: Wendy James
Published: May 20th 2019
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
After eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, her bizarre story of kidnap and escape enthrals the nation. Who would do such a thing? And why?
Local drama teacher Suzannah Wells, once a minor celebrity, is new to town. Suddenly she’s in the spotlight again, accused of being the monster who drugged and bound a teenager in her basement. As stories about her past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt her innocence.
And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?
A powerful exploration of the fragility of trust and the loss of innocence, from the author of The Golden Child and The Mistake.
Wendy James, the 2017 Ned Kelly Best Crime Fiction shortlist author, returns with her latest novel, The Accusation. This new novel from Wendy James is a velvet rich domestic noir novel that buries itself in themes of kidnapping, truth, lies, sensationalism and cult status. Absorbing, addictive and seducing, I read this novel in two short sittings.
The Accusation is the story of a baffling crime, an off kilter abduction and an act of betrayal. At the centre of this strange crime is Ellie Canning, an eighteen year old girl who is discovered on an isolated country road, filled with a tale of a kidnapping and a daring escape. Ellie’s tale immediately captures the nation, by many questions of how and why emerge. Someone clearly needs to be blamed for this horrendous crime and the finger is quickly pointed at Suzannah Wells – a newcomer to the area. Suzannah’s behaviour and suspect background soon sees her cast as the evil perpetrator of this crime. For Ellie though, her life is now dictated to the media circus that constantly surrounds her. The public continue to crave more from the poor girl who was kidnapped and bravely escaped. But Ellie’s star begins to fall and as it does the real story behind her kidnapping in revealed – in spectacular circumstances.
Wendy James is a decorated Australian novelist, especially in the field of contemporary and crime fiction. Domestic noir is her forte and she definitely sends us in a spin with her latest novel. Filled with contradictions, plenty of grey areas and more questions than answers, The Accusation will keep you riveted from the opening paragraph to the last sentence.
The Accusation is a book that is inspired by a real life eighteenth century crime that took place in Britain. Known as the ‘Canning Affair’, this baffling crime involved the kidnapping of a maidservant who claimed to have been taken against her will for a period of a month. Labelled as one of Britain’s most unusual crime mysteries of the era, the further reading I conducted on this case and how it links to The Accusation was enlightening. I have a weakness for novels styled in this way and The Accusation is definitely a book that wrapped itself around me.
The Accusation is a novel that is formatted in a divided set of year, month and named labelled perspectives. These points of view alternate, providing the reader with both moments of clarity and confusion. I know personally my sides were distributed evenly. I felt empathy for both central characters, but at the same time, I doubted the integrity of their actions. I think that is a deliberate ploy on behalf of the author. Wendy James wants us to feel this way. She also wants us to think outside the box, get a little creative and play in active role in pursuing the truth.
The novel is separated into three parts and it contains sets of narrative prose, along with documentary transcripts, media stories and police interviews. Together, these varied mediums help to provide a holistic view of this complex case. Connected to this is the exploration the author has undergone to expose the problem of fake news, sensationalism, instant celebrity status, manipulation and public opinion. This was a real eye opener and I am sure this focus on the current climate in the world of media influence will grab at the audience in more ways than one.
Careful characterisation, pitch perfect plotting, spot on pacing and a stifling small town setting adds to the intense nature of The Accusation. Be sure to seek this one out if domestic noir novels are high up on your reading agenda.
The Accusation by Wendy James was published on 20th May 2019 by Harper Collins Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Accusation, Wendy James, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Accusation is book #77 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.