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The Secret Baby Room
By D.D. Johnston
Publisher: Barbican Press
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Genre: Womans Fiction/Psychological Mystery
Length: 288 Pages
About the book:
Claire Wilson knows what she saw: on the eighth floor of a derelict tower block, a woman was bottle-feeding a baby. But why would anyone take a baby into a boarded-up tower block? In an area of Manchester plagued by unexplained tragedies, the only allies Claire can find are a pagan witch, a wild-child party girl, and a husband with too many secrets.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:EXCERPTOn Sunday morning at 9:15 a.m., Claire was escorted to Interview Room 3. She was relieved to be out of the cell but self-conscious about her stale breath and unwashed body. Her jeans smelled of damp, and dried blood covered her right hand where she had grazed her knuckles kayaking.And then it occurred to her, as she was waiting alone in the interview room, how ridiculous these thoughts were. What did it matter? So much of her life she had spent caring about the wrong things: what did it matter whether she had stale breath? What difference did it really make if her bra was visible through her shirt? Why did she care about her BMI or her… underarm fat. Underarm fat! Who even decided such a thing should be added to the catalogue of female worries? It was all absurd. She remembered that as she was being driven to the police station, her hands cuffed behind her back, among her many terrors was the thought that she might be strip-searched. As much as she feared the violence of the act, she had also worried because her legs were unshaved and it had been ages since she’d attended to her bikini line. What a moment at which to worry about depilation! ‘Who cares?’ she said aloud. ‘Who cares?
D.D. Johnston’s first novel, Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs, was a Sunday Herald Book of the Year in 2011 and is published in Spanish as Paz, amor y cócteles molotov. His experimental second novel, The Deconstruction of Professor Thrub, was a 2013 book of the year in The Morning Star, where it was described as “determinedly extraordinary”. He lives in Cheltenham, UK, and works at the University of Gloucestershire, where he is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing and a University Teaching Fellow. In his spare time he runs the OnlineWritingTips.com website.
An interesting mix of literary fiction and psychological thriller/mystery, The Secret Baby Room by D.D. Johnston begins slowly but slowly gains speed towards a happy conclusion. Filled with colorful characters, quirky British dialogue and an interesting mystery. While I wouldn’t say this is a thriller by American standards, there’s not a lot of running around with guns, bombs or terrorists, the psychological elements of the book do provide just enough tension to keep you turning the pages.Mr. Johnston does a good job developing Claire’s character right from the start; a married woman who left her job and friends to move to a different part of the UK (Manchester) due to her husband’s job transfer, Claire finds herself in the unenviable situation of being alone most of the day. Realizing her situation Claire sets out to make friends in her new neighborhood and occupy her time with hobbies or social obligations. Observing a blond lady holding a baby in the tower behind her home, Claire soon finds herself on the defensive when no one believes what she’s seen. After all, the tower is supposed to be torn down in a few weeks and has only been occupied by transients without babies. I really liked Claire and easily connected with her strengths and weaknesses.Mr. Johnston also does a good job with the secondary characters, especially Dan, Claire’s husband, who doesn’t know if his wife is seeing things or dealing with the grief of a recent miscarriage they suffered. I also enjoyed getting to know the women who became her friends; Morgana, the neighborhood Wiccan, and Lianne, the alcoholic party girl whose father is in charge of developing the rest of the neighborhood. Both women add quite a bit of color and distraction in Claire’s life and a touch of mystery to the story.The mystery part of the story is well handled and reminded me a bit of the movie Gaslight, a 1944 American Film Noir mystery thriller, based on British playwright Patrick Hamilton’s Gas Light. Using the same subtle style development, Mr. Johnston makes you question whether Claire really did see a woman and baby on the tower or if she’s crazy like the police soon come to believe. As I stated earlier in my review, the only issue with the story’s mystery/thriller aspect is the pacing, which is quite slow at the start and then gradually speeds up to a dramatic finish at the end. While the resolution of the mystery is definitely satisfactory, I would have liked an epilogue giving us a hint of what happens in regards to Claire and Dan’s future.Will Claire discover the mystery behind the woman and baby she saw in the tower balcony? Or will she discover it’s all a part of her post miscarriage depression? You’ll have to read The Secret Baby Room to find out. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of this author’s work.My Rating: 4 out of 5 Crowns