From the author of the Girl on a Train-esque The One Who Got Away comes an all-new, nail-baiting novel: The Ones You Trust by Caroline Overington. Emma Cardwell is a bit-celebrity and the host of a morning show called Cuppa, and is living the life while juggling her successful career and being a mum of three. That all changes one fine October day when her daughter (the ridiculously named Fox-Piper) disappears from her fancy daycare centre. Many questions are asked, relationships questioned, but one thing remains: who is the woman captured on CCTV near the daycare and what happened to Fox-Piper?
I was a bit apprehensive coming into this novel. My first Caroline Overington novel left a bit of a bad taste. The One Who Got Away was clearly capitalising on the Gone Girl trend, didn’t feel set in the U.S. at all, and it had a confusingly ridiculous ending. However, I saw an ad on Twitter, and I was intrigued. So I decided to give Overington a second chance. Was it worth it? Perhaps.
This book really hooks you in. The premise is interesting enough: you really want to find out what happened to Fox-Piper. Overington really sets out to make Cardwell down-to-earth and likeable, but it feels forced. She basically tells you right off which characters are good and evil, the most obvious being Maven. If I was to DNF, it would be because of Maven. She is probably the biggest asshole, and no-one is under any doubts as to what she’s really like. Maven—real name Sally Hansen—is the Stellar Network’s (the home of Cuppa) PR person. If any of the stars have secrets, she will pretend to support them, and then leak them to the gossip mags like The Scoop or paparazzi like John “Pap” Meddow. Likely both. I was hoping Maven would get some sort of comeuppance, but…no, of course not.
As with almost all of these 2010s psychological thrillers, I only assumed the kidnapper would be male. Why? Overington wasn’t exactly quiet about her politics. She had her protagonist Emma constantly rant about things like manspreading, how PJ (her Karl Stefanovic-y co-host) was able to get away with anything, and how her mother Margaret was not very nice because she didn’t agree with feminism and was—gasp—a conservative! For the most part, I thought her husband Brandon would be up to no good. He was Texan, he owned guns, and he watched pornography! I was a bit bewildered about the scene near the beginning, before Fox is kidnapped, where Emma catches Brandon watching porn. She goes into a huge rant about how their marriage must be over, even though like 98 percent of men watch porn, and then that hypocrisy was in full display later on in the novel, when Emma recounts she had an almost-affair. How holier-than-thou! Brandon and Emma seem perfect for each other.
I was able to look past Overington’s politics, because the novel was incredibly well-written, fast paced, and I was so desperate to find out who the kidnapper was. All was going well. I suspected Brandon the Texan, or maybe Maven (though I knew that wouldn’t be the case), but mostly someone at the Stellar Network, because the book made a huge point of mentioning its rating were dropping because Cuppa’s competitor, the ridiculously named Brew, had a sexy, young new female co-host.
For the most part, I was excited, speed-reading so I could quickly get to the ending. The kidnapper is finally revealed, and everything is solved…or so we think. The last few chapters we get good old Caroline Overington I remembered not-so-fondly from The One Who Got Away. The ending…well, I didn’t like it. It turns out the kidnapper was manipulated by someone else, who Emma never figures out was manipulated by someone else. She ruins the career of the person she believes initiated the whole kidnapping, smug in her satisfaction of saving the day, and one-upping those evil men in upper management. The actual initiator of the kidnapping never gets punished, and in fact is the one to keep punishing the man Emma thinks is guilty. It felt like a bit of a “Look! These women have been oppressed for millennia (despite Emma and the other woman not being anywhere near alive for close to millennia), watch as they finally get to dole out justice!” The spoiler also came out of nowhere, with a character only briefly mentioned near the beginning playing a pivotal role, and not the red herring of Emma’s niece Airlie and her “smoking drugs” ex-boyfriend Denim.
There were a lot of dated references that made me cringe. Maybe it’s because I’m one of those horrible millennials PJ complains about, but the cringe was all too real in some of Overington’s attempts to seem hip. For example, there’s a scene with Pap playing video games. It’s described like this: “Pap looked down from his console—he ‘d been playing computer games…” The only thing to make this scene cringier would be for the console to make bleep bloop sounds, or for her to say he was playing Mega-Mutilation Part Three on the Nintendo. There’s also a bit where Overington describes Brandon having a “Bitcoin account”, which reads awkwardly.
On the other hand, since Overington is the Associate Editor for The Australian, her dialogue and conversations between the media feels very authentic. I appreciated Overington was able to cross the fine line between using too many press terms (like pix, yarn, etc) and making it easily understandable to her readers. The dialogue felt realistic, and the media’s absurd obsession with finding out about celebrities (regardless of the cost) rang all too true, especially when Pap rants about how his career has taken a nosedive since Princess Diana’s death. The media has learned nothing from her death.
If you want a quick psychological thriller to get you through all the hoopla of the Grand Final weekend, or if you’re a parent (or prospective parent) who wonders What if it was my child?, then this might be for you. If you can look past all the shoehorned political commentary, you’ll find a good read. While the ending was a letdown, comes out of nowhere, and is only there to show the good-girl-turned-manipulative-media-star can outsmart those evil big boys—it’ll keep you hooked along the way, constantly questioning who really kidnapped Fox-Piper Cardwell-Cole. What if it was your child?