The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anatomy as “a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination” and scandal as “a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it,” which makes Anatomy of a Scandal pretty much the perfect title for Sarah Vaughan latest novel.
Readers have seen an influx of novels focused on women forced to confront the inadequacies of their husbands after allegations of sexual harassment or worse. Many of these novels have similar touchstones, as one would expect, but fortunately each of them tackles the subject matter from unique angles.
In Anatomy of a Scandal, James Whitehouse is a prominent member of Britain’s Parliament. He has a happy marriage with his wife Sophie, a long-standing friendship with the current Prime Minister, and a hopeful career trajectory – until a rape accusation threatens to strip him of it all.
Kate Woodcroft is the attorney tasked with proving these allegations against James. She specializes in cases of a sexual nature and while occasionally disillusioned with the court system, she stands beside her victims and does everything she can to minimize additional trauma when prosecuting these cases.
The fact that James admits to having an affair with his accuser adds an additional and timely element to this story. Abuse of power is something that society is finally taking an active look at and books like this allow readers to explore the topic from a safe distance.
The courtroom scenes are gripping and flow perfectly into the flashbacks, which document James’ youthful days at Eton and Oxford. This fleshing out of the backstory makes for an interesting way to explore a potential pattern of behavior. With chapters from Sophie’s point of view, the Whitehouse marriage is examined; so in the end a complete detailed blueprint analysis of James is revealed to the reader.
As readers have seen in many of the books on this subject matter, making sure the cases at hand are not clear-cut and obvious creates dramatic interest. Sarah Vaughan takes a similar tack. There may be a few machinations that stretch credibility in this tale, but the skill of the author to maintain a heightened sense of tension and suspense cannot be denied. Vaughan should also be commended for not taking the easy road out of this man’s complicated history.
Novels such as Anatomy of a Scandal were being written long before the #metoo and #timesup movements came into full swing, so readers can expect to see many additional works that examine this particular topic in the coming years. Hopefully most of this work – like Sarah Vaughan’s – will be nuanced, so that the discussions generated can aim at informing and bettering our society. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is a problem in the first place.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.