The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

By Ekta R. Garg

August 9, 2017

Genre: Psychological thriller/mystery

Release date: March 7, 2017

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman determined to turn her child into the symbol of academic and extracurricular perfection goes missing. The detectives on the case must piece together who would want to harm her and figure out whether her tendency to antagonize others may have been her undoing. British author Paula Daly will keep readers guessing until the end in her latest book The Trophy Child.

Physician Noel Bloom is doing his best to be patient with his second wife, Karen, and her obsession with the child they had together, Bronte. Karen has made it her mission in life to turn 10-year-old Bronte into the golden child: a star in all academics as well as music and the arts. If a person names an activity or a subject, chances are Bronte is going to those classes or to extra coaching for them.

As if Karen’s laser-like focus on Bronte wasn’t creating enough tension in the house, Noel’s older daughter (and Karen’s step-daughter,) Verity, is fighting her way through probation at school. After an incident in which Verity attacked Karen, everyone in their small community looks at Verity askance. Their family has become the talk of the town, and all Noel wants is for everything to go back to normal.

When Bronte goes missing, however, normal is the last thing possible. Detective Sergeant Joanne Aspinall and her partner look into Bronte’s disappearance, only for Joanne to discover she already has a connection to the Bloom family. Connection or not, Joanne has to deal with Karen’s melodramatic tantrums. Karen refuses to take anyone’s advice on the investigation; she talks to the press when the police tell her to stay quiet, she answers the phone when the police tell her to leave it alone, and she continues to spread gossip about anyone she thinks will stand in Bronte’s way of success.

Just as the community and Karen begin to enter a frenzied state, Bronte comes home. She arrives unannounced, unassisted, and unharmed. Joanne tries on several occasions to coax Bronte to reveal where she went and whether anyone hurt her. A physical exam reveals that no one harmed Bronte’s body, but her mouth stays shut. She’s not answering questions for anyone.

Life sort of settles down and then becomes wildly out of sync again when Karen goes missing. No one can figure out the logic of it, least of all Joanne. The more she digs into the family, the less she understands about Karen and the other members of the Bloom household. Nothing resembles the previous cases Joanne has worked, but her tenacity pays off when gets a small break. As she follows up on that break, everything starts to chip and crumble until the entire case cracks wide open.

Author Paula Daly uses what readers love most about British books to her advantage: the dry wit; the moody climate; the “prim and proper” societal expectations. She includes all this and more in The Trophy Child. Readers will find themselves forming opinions about characters and changing those opinions based on the information Daly reveals in painstaking fashion.

The mystery takes its time to unfold, and some readers might get a little antsy as they’re waiting for one clue after another to be revealed. The plot in some places does drag a little. Karen’s older teenage son from another relationship, for example, offers a nice diversion from the main story, but readers may wonder at times whether as a character he’s necessary. Also, while Daly offers hints to Karen’s motivation for her almost manic behavior when it comes to Bronte, readers don’t really get a good look at Karen’s back story. If by design, this may increase sympathy and frustration by turns.

Noel’s passive, almost hapless, approach to life may also make some readers shake their heads, but it is exactly his passivity that keeps the engine of the story moving forward. A more self-assured person would have taken matters into his own hands, which would have taken the story in an entirely different direction. Also, when it matters most to him, Noel, doesn’t hesitate to act.

A few of the minor plot points linger longer than necessary, but for the most part this book hits all the right buttons for a mystery. I recommend readers Bookmark The Trophy Child by Paula Daly.