Caroline Overington’s latest thriller, The Ones You Trust, centres on television breakfast host, 43-year-old Emma Cardwell, and her absolutely fabulous life. She is famous and well-off. Lives in a ‘beautiful and gracious house, with high ceilings and polished concrete floors smothered in luxurious rugs.’ And has a brood of gorgeous children and every working woman’s dream, a house-husband who supports her and her career.
There are pressures with the show’s ratings sliding, but compared to many, Emma has got it good. Until that is, one day, when her little girl disappears from day-care and her world is shattered.
Everyone’s in shock. The unbelievable has happened – Fox-Piper, the youngest of Emma’s three children, has vanished. The only clue, CCTV footage at a nearby shopping centre that captures her adored toddler with pink cheeks and a wild thatch of blonde curls, first of all alone, then leaving with someone Emma has never seen before.
Detective Paul Franklin who is in charge of the case is puzzled – why is Fox-Piper is standing there alone at first? Who is the middle-aged woman who took her, an unlikely looking kidnapper if ever there was one? Where to, and again, why?
Once the story gets out, Emma and the family are besieged, the house ringed by a media circus, flashing lights, reporters and camera crews. Suddenly, the woman who has been reporting the news on breakfast TV has become the news.
Has Emma’s fame attracted some deranged fan who has turned kidnapper? Could it be a criminal gang wanting a ransom? Or, is it someone closer to home, someone who knew the family and were familiar with their movements? As the questions multiply, the clock ticks over, the fear grows and The Ones You Trust becomes impossible to put down.
Meanwhile, in between the investigation, Overington delves deeper into the personal lives of Emma and her husband, Brandon, excavating some interesting skeletons from their past.
The cut-throat world of brekky television is both an entertaining backdrop and a major strand of the plot all the way through. Characters here include an often drunk and womanising co-host, a loathsome station manager and Maven, the toxic and all-powerful, public relations manager who organised Emma and Brandon’s wedding, and then made sure it was turned into a magazine spread headed Our Perfect Day.
There’s the disgusting trend of fat shaming famous women, illustrated when Emma is snapped at her local beach in a one-piece. Blue rings circle her worst bulges, with arrows pointing, labelled ‘Porridge!’ Social media plays a potent role here and in shaping other aspects of the plot with its power of things being re-tweeted and going ‘viral’ and ‘the fading of attention, of glory, of Likes.’
The clash between career and family life bubbles up as well. Even with a house-husband, and a crew of nannies and carers, Emma is stretched tightly between work and home, and is often wracked with guilt about her shortcomings as a mother, always leaving home when her children are sound asleep, sometimes scuttling home just in time to catch them at the end of the day.
In one scene, Emma’s mother declares (unfairly) that feminism has a lot to answer for: ‘And I’m looking at what feminism has done for you, Emma. Yes, you have this wonderful job, but what about family life?’ ‘I want to work,’ says Emma. ‘That’s why I went to university. Are you asking me to stay home and make cookies?’
Rarely is there a clear answer to this sort of debate. Wisely, Overington doesn’t attempt to come up with any, beyond depicting, through Emma and Brandon, the daily struggle of parents (even those with chauffeurs and nannies), who live in chaos, running between pick-ups and drop-offs and being frowned at for leaving work at a reasonable time.
Overington does however come up with answer as to what happened to little Fox-Piper. But you’ll never guess it.
All in all, The Ones You Trust is a searing portrait of fame, family and modern life, with the pulse of a first-rate thriller.
About The Author
Caroline Overington is a bestselling Australian author and an award-winning journalist. She has written eleven books, including the top ten bestseller The One Who Got Away, and Last Woman Hanged, which won the Davitt Award for True Crime Writing in 2015. She has profiled many of the world’s most famous women, including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, and has twice won the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism. She has also won the Sir Keith Murdoch Award for Journalistic Excellence and the Blake Dawson Prize for Business Literature. Caroline is currently Associate Editor at The Australian and is based in Sydney. You can find her online at www.carolineoverington.com.