If you’ve read Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty or The Party by Elizabeth Day, then you may well enjoy this book, as it struck me as a combination of the two – the courtroom drama and scandal of the former, mingled with the party politics and Tory / Eton background of the latter. It is certainly an unashamed swing of the bat against Conservative politicians who were educated at Eton, Oxford and were members of an elite dining club (the Bullingdon Club is called the Libertines here, but is eminently recognisable); and, more broadly, a condemnation of the current nature of sexual politics and sex crime (the scandal involves a rape).
It’s a heady brew and it rattles along brilliantly; I got through it in two days, which is testament to Vaughan’s control of the pace and the narrative. There’s a real immediacy to the book, partly as a result of the first person narrative taken at the start, and little time is wasted in getting into the lives of the main characters, and we are soon being propelled along by the action. Which, without divulging too much, is a Conservative minister (James Whitehouse) who’s revealed to have been having an affair – a situation which escalates and threatens to overwhelm those around him, particularly when it links back to episodes in the past.
There is, of course, great fun to be had here – you can insert names (Cameron, Osborne, Johnson et al) in place of the politician characters who indulge in boorish antics at university, and who have a complete assurance and confidence that a) this level of power is meant for them and b) that nothing will ever upset the applecart and disrupt this ‘natural’ order of things.
However, the book is at its best interrogating the feelings of the female characters: the prosecuting lawyer, his wife and the young researcher. I found Vaughan’s evocation of how Sophie (Whitehouse’s wife) feels at different stages of the process ( from finding out to newspaper coverage to being doorstepped to running away etc) completely believable – being torn in different directions, being loyal to her children and her husband, being shaken by disbelieving what she had held to be true and more.
What slightly lets it down for me is a few steps too far in terms of plot contrivance – which I can’t explain without ruining things; but suffice to say that I think there was enough in the book already without ladling it on. And some of the action at the university veers close to cliché; it is better done in, for example, Laura Wade’s excellent drama Posh Boys. All that said, if you want a rapid, topical, entertaining read, you could do a lot, lot worse: there’s much food for thought as the pages whizz by.