Reviewed in Australia on 16 December 2020
After reading (and totally loving) "The Doll's House" a couple of years ago, I was excited to dive into Phoebe Morgan's latest thriller THE BABYSITTER. And while it does start out a little slow at first, it soon picks up pace to become an addictive little number.
Siobhan and her family are just beginning their holiday at her sister's beautiful villa in France when the police arrive and arrest her husband under suspicion of murder. It appears he'd been having an affair with the deceased so of course immediately becomes prime suspect. But Callum vehemently denies killing her.
TV executive Callum is handsome, successful and loves women almost as much as he loves himself. This is not the first time he has had an affair as his wife Siobhan is well aware but even she is shocked that he is now under suspicion of murdering the latest one. But that's not all. It seems the deceased, Caroline, had been babysitting a friend's little girl and now baby Eve is missing as well. As he is lead away in handcuffs en route back to the UK for questioning, Siobhan attempts to appease her distraught teenage daughter Emma with little effect. But it's her older sister Maria who soothes the frantic girl, leaving Siobhan once again feeling left out of her own life.
Maria has never married and enjoys her life of independence. She sees the freedom she has to live as she chooses a far cry from Siobhan's life of drudgery, tethered to serial philanderer Callum. Not being tied down has enabled her to afford the luxury of not only owning her own place in the UK, but the beautiful sprawling villa in St Juliette in France. She is in the process of redecorating it when she invited Siobhan and the family to stay.
Then there is poor Caroline Harvey, a needy, unstable and largely insecure woman in her late 20s who found herself in an 18 month long affair with the self-indulgent Callum. She foolishly believed, as many "other women" do, that he would leave his wife for her but she didn't bargain on his affinity with his daughter Emma. Even when Caroline found herself pregnant, that wasn't enough to lure Callum away from his family...and Caroline began to wonder was it all really worth it? She'd loosely confided in her friend Jenny who was initially worried about the fact that she was involved with a married man. But Jenny had a busy life, married and mother to 18 month old Eve that Caroline found herself envying her friend. She wanted what she had.
So when Jenny asked her to baby-sit Eve, Caroline jumped at the chance despite knowing very little about babies. She had looked after her once before that Jenny didn't hesitate to ask her friend for the favour and, desperate as she was, said that she would bring Eve and all her paraphernalia to Caro's flat. But no sooner had Jenny hurried out the door than Eve began to cry which then turned into screams that Caroline found herself unable to pacify.
And little did Jenny know that that would be the last time she saw her little girl. For when she returned to collect her later that night, she found Caro bent over the portacot dead and Eve nowhere to be found.
Who would enter Caroline's flat, kill her and abduct a baby? What motive could there possibly be? Police could surmise one scenario for Caroline and one for Eve, but not one that would involve them both. Jenny had enlightened them to Caroline's affair with married man Callum Dillon which then in turn lead police to their doorstep in France a few days later. Despite being on the continent now, the murder actually occurred the night before they left. So while selfish, philandering Callum is undoubtedly a jerk, is he a murderer? And where is baby Eve?
As soon as Callum is sent back to the UK for questioning by the Suffolk Police, Siobhan, Emma and Maria soon follow. The scandal surrounding the Caroline's death and Callum's womanising becomes frontline news as reporters begin to doorstep the family leaving them prisoners in their own home for fear of being accosted by them should they step outside. "Hashtag Find Eve" is trending on Twitter with locals surmising their own opinions as trial by social media purports its findings. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion as accusations are thrown involving Callum, Siobhan and even baby Eve's parents' Jenny and Rick. No one is immune from attack.
But Siobhan is hiding secrets of her own while trying to maintain harmony for her family as 16 year old Emma behaves erratically whilst seeking comfort in the arms of her aunt Maria. Siobhan cannot help but feel excluded from her own daughter's life, who has always been far closer to her father and now, it seems, to her aunt.
And yet, despite this, I couldn't feel much empathy towards Siobhan. It was Caroline I felt for. She was lonely, insecure and longed to be loved. She thought she had found it in Callum...but did she really? Even in death she appeared to be forgotten, as all anyone was interested in was finding baby Eve (understandably) but that didn't mean Caroline's life was worth any less just because she was dead.
Told from multiple perspectives - Siobhan, Caroline and DS Wildy primarily - the story unfolds before and after Caroline's murder. It's with this aspect that we, the reader, are aware of circumstances and facts that the police not yet privy to. It makes it interesting as we ponder who could possibly be responsible for Caroline's murder and the disappearance of baby Eve? Is Eve even still alive? No one knows but after the first 48 hours the likelihood of finding Eve alive drops considerably. The characters all well developed and somewhat interesting - I loved DS Wildy the best - though some are thoroughly unlikeable...least of all, serial philanderer Callum. Quite frankly, he deserved the grief he got for all he put his long-suffering wife and family through. Though I doubt he loved any woman he was involved with as he was far too in love with himself.
A gripping psychological thriller, THE BABYSITTER is not quite of the same calibre as her debut "The Doll House" , which was too clever beyond words, but it is still packed with surprises and the ability to shock at the end. It is compelling and completely engaging from start to finish, though it was a little slow to begin with before it gained momentum and thus flowed flawlessly at a rapid pace. I did partially work out who was involved but not completely until just before it is revealed. The twist, when it came, was deliciously clever.
A definite recommend to fans of thrillers - domestic and psychological alike.