Sarah Vaughan made quite a splash in the crime fiction community with her 2018 release, Anatomy of a Scandal, in which she did a deep-dive exploration of toxic masculinity and the #metoo movement. Now, 2020 finds her once again tackling a complex and timely issue through the lens of a literary crime novel. Little Disasters focuses on parenting and all the various pitfalls associated with this under-appreciated and challenging endeavor.
Liz Trenchard is a UK-based pediatrician who prides herself on her ability to juggle both a family and a career; however, when the baby daughter of one of her closest friends is brought into the emergency room, she must face a tough and troubling dilemma. While she knows her friend Jess would never harm any of her children, the woman’s story clashes with the medical evidence uncovered and Liz must report it to the safeguarding board for further investigation.
This decision results in legal troubles for Jess and feelings of guilt for Liz. Both women’s husbands question whether everyone is reading too much into casual comments and innocent actions, but it is when all their various friends weigh in on the decision that the fractures within this close-knit group are exposed. Dichotomously, it would seem the tighter the bonds, the more space for secrets and lies.
Little Disasters is hyper-focused on this one incident, with only slight pivots to allow for secondary story-lines. The result risked tedium, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Sarah Vaughan translates into a gripping read that speeds along at breakneck pace instead. Time stamps at the beginning of each chapter keep the reader oriented on when each scene is taking place – before the emergency room visit or after the police have become involved. These timeline shifts are used to maximum effect to keep readers on their toes and always questioning what else they do not yet know…things that truly alter opinions on how this should be best handled.
Coming in at over 400 pages, Vaughan has plenty of space to craft well-defined characters who readers can relate to. The exploration of Liz and Jess is, by necessity, the major focus throughout the narrative, but even the most minor characters are brought to life with vim and vigor. Quandaries are placed in everyone’s path, so watching how naturalistically this author allows her characters to navigate those challenges demands the reading of another page, another chapter.
With both Anatomy of a Scandal and Little Disasters, it is now clear that Sarah Vaughan has evolved into one of our premiere chroniclers of difficult moral dilemmas. Her ability to explore these complex situations within page-turning crime novels without sacrificing verisimilitude is second to none. Thankfully for readers, there are still countless controversies within our society yet to be mined by this talented wordsmith.
Little Disasters is available now in the UK and will be available in mid-August for US readers.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.