Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong. So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands. But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for…
Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.
But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .
A dark contemporary psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist from an award winning and critically acclaimed writer who has been compared to Ruth Rendell, PD James and Val McDermid. Rebecca meets The Handmaid’s Tale in Sarah Hilary’s standalone breakout novel, Fragile.
One of the things I love most about this book is the way it is written, the metaphors, the clever turns of phrase that pepper the narrative time and time again. It is clever, sinister and menacing with some really unlikable characters such as foster carer Meagan Flack a “Poundland Bond villain without even a cat to warm her vicious lap”, Dr Robin Wilder who owns Starling Villas “his loneliness had a colour, pebble-grey”, his wife or is it ex-wife Carolyn who “didn’t need a weapon, with her eyes like knives” and I hate to say it – “soft boy” Joe Peach.
One always wonders in these types of story how someone like Meagan Flack (her full name makes her sound more sinister) ever got to be a foster carer. Surely someone was suspicious. She doesn’t even like children. She is mean and spiteful and lazy – allowing foster child Nell Ballard to do all the work. Abandoned at eight years old when her mother met a new man and wanted to start a fresh family with a new baby, she becomes the mum to all the little ones. She cooks, cleans and even irons their clothes. She reads them bedtime stories and puts them to bed. Then Rosie Bond arrives, the pretty little ‘princess’ whose parents wanted a doll to show off and got a toddler with the terrible twos. Nell adores Rosie who calls her her new mother and follows her everywhere.
But when tragedy strikes, Nell and Joe run away to London, doing anything and everything to survive till they end up on the streets. Then Nell sees an opportunity to become the housekeeper at Starling Villas, but employer Dr Wilder has rules, pages of them, which would send most people running. But Nell doesn’t mind – she’s used to rules – and she doesn’t believe she is worthy of anything better. She breaks everything she touches because she knows how fragile people can be, including herself. All she really wants is love and security but she doesn’t believe she deserves it, not after what she and Joe did back at Lyles.
This is a very dark story, full of guilt, secrets and lies. As the reader you pray there will be hope and salvation, but can Nell find a way back and forgive herself?
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours and to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
SARAH HILARY’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel. Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.