Fiction - paperback; Hodder; 357 pages; 2006.
Little Face was one of those books I added to my wishlist after I read several favourable reviews online. Last week I was lucky enough to obtain a free copy via Bookmooch and as soon as it arrived I ripped open the envelope and waded in.
The story is one of those rip-roaring woman-in-peril narratives that starts out at a ferocious pace but eventually loses steam and ends up making the reader want to throw the book across the room out of disappointment and frustration. If truth be told, that's actually what I did, and I do believe the words "what a crap ending" came out of my mouth!
Little Face capitalises on every mother's fear: the loss of a child. And Sophie Hannah does this with aplomb, making her main protagonist, first-time mum Alice Fancourt, nervous, jittery and anxious even before anything happens to her new bub. Then Alice's nervous disposition morphs into very real fear and paranoia when she becomes convinced her two-week-old daugher, Florence, has been "swapped" while in the care of her husband, David.
Of course, David thinks the claim is ridiculous, but Alice's mother-in-law, a control freak who is not all that she seems, isn't quite so sure. Over the course of the next few days Alice's world is turned upside down as her husband becomes more vindictive and nasty towards her. It is only later when the reader realises that David's first wife has been murdered that you begin to really fear for Alice's safety -- physically and psychologically.
The strength of the narrative is the fact that the reader is never quite sure whether Alice is telling the truth or whether she might just be suffering from some severe form of post-natal depression.
Hannah builds the tension by having the story told from two different perspectives -- Alice's version is told in the first person, while the police investigation is told in the third person. I quite liked this treatment and thought it worked well, with two reservations: I tended to find Alice's voice slightly whiny and the police procedural aspect seemed amateurish, as if the only research the author had done was to watch a bunch of TV cop shows.
Other quibbles included the often unrealistic and clumsy dialogue, and the stereotypical characters, particularly Alice's mother-in-law, a kind of wicked witch of the west character, so absurd that she didn't seem at all believable.
All that aside, the book is an entertaining read, and as long as you're not expecting anything too literary, it's an enjoyable romp. Just don't aim the book in my direction if you find the ending disappointing!