Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: A carefully-crafted and uncannily clever tale about a new mother's irrational (or perhaps not so irrational) panic for the safety of her two children.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336/11h50m Date: May 2019
Publisher: HQ
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0008293710

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Lauren Tranter and her husband have just welcomed the arrival of children – twin boys, who they decide to name Riley and Morgan. But something's wrong. While everyone else is celebrating, Lauren starts to worry – that someone out there is coming to take her children away, and if she looks away for even a second, they'll strike…

Loosely inspired by an old Welsh fairy tale, Little Darlings is a book that's hard to classify. While it could loosely be described as a thriller, it's more accurately police procedural meets dark psychological drama. For all the creepiness the book promises, you get the sense that Melanie Golding had some fun writing this; even at the start before the plot has properly picked up, there are some gruesome and all-too-real descriptions of what happens to a woman's body during and after giving birth (and like a typical male who'll never experience the pains of labour, I winced just reading about it).

Normally the inclusion of fairy-tale and nursery-rhyme elements has me rolling my eyes, but they're used to great effect here. Influenced perhaps too much by tales of elves and changelings, Lauren slowly becomes convinced that someone – or something – is trying to replace her babies with their own. The line between certainty and belief; the ambiguity of what's real and what's not; the murky business of trying to establish the truth; all of these elements make this story eerie and incredibly tense. Even though the story incorporates the viewpoints of two other characters, Lauren's chapters are written so convincingly that it's difficult not to think that she might just be on to something.

The pacing of the plot is very clever. Golding keeps the plot tightly focused through the novel's small cast and what I initially wrote off as shallow characterisation turns out to be information carefully and deliberately withheld, with just enough drip-fed that you'll suspect every character of being the villain of the piece. Of course, the best twists are saved for the very end and the final sequence is hugely tense, with one moment in particular that made me gasp. And the ending left me feeling shaken – it flips everything on its head. But I can't say any more, or I'll spoil it...

If you hadn't guessed already, I was really taken with Little Darlings - it's a real gem of a book. Much as I'm reluctant to resort to book-marketing cliches, Little Darlings really feels like it could be the thriller of the summer; I've already witnessed some buzzing about it on social media. I've no doubt more people will be talking about it before long.

I've recommended Gillian Flynn's novels (Sharp Objects is my favourite) before, but they're my go-to for good dark novels that are as much thriller as psychodrama. If Little Darlings didn't satisfy your appetite for scares, and you're in the mood to constantly be on the edge of your seat, Brenda Novak's Evelyn Talbot series - starting with Her Darkest Nightmare - is an excellent read.

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