A friendship between two very different women and a teenage girl who went missing decades earlier, is at the heart of Robyn Harding’s latest novel, the compulsively readable Her Pretty Face.
Frances Metcalfe is overweight and lonely, a struggling, anxious mum with a troublesome son called Marcus the cause of most of her problems. Kate Randolph is beautiful, confident wealthy. Kate has a son the same age as Marcus, and an unhappy teenage daughter, Daisy.
When Marcus is accepted into the elite Forrester Academy, Frances believes her troubles are over. At last, she’ll be able to reclaim her life. But an incident sees Marcus and his mother shunned by the school community and the future looks darker than ever. Enter lovely Kate who befriends Frances. Bonding over the snobbishness and cruelty of the other Forrester mothers, they strike up a great rapport.
Frances and Kate grow closer and are thrilled when their sons become friends too, resulting in a big improvement in Marcus’s behaviour. The similarities to Moriarty’s Big Little Lies at this point are striking, however there’s a subtle menace hovering over Her Pretty Face, glimpsed at the beginning with a seemingly unconnected newspaper account of a teenage girl, Courtney Carey, who went missing decades earlier.
Her Pretty Face unravels in a ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ format and with it, the tragic story of Courtney unfolds, mostly from the perspective of her younger brother, dj. This chopping from past to present can be distracting, but Harding uses it to build the tension and it becomes imperative to get to the truth. (I willed the world to go away and read it in an afternoon and a night).
Kate’s daughter Daisy is another building block intrinsic to this gripping story. The already dysfunctional relationship between them is worsening. Feeling unloved and allowed to roam free, Daisy is drawn to a creepy, much older man who seems to be stalking her. It’s her ultimate act of rebellion, scarily believe-able and has the reader pleading to Daisy, ‘don’t do it,’ every time the man’s big rumbling car arrives on the scene. Of course, she does.
As the story-lines begin to intersect and Francis’s and Kate’s family grow closer, cracks begin to appear. Tiny ones at first. A doubt here and there, until it soon becomes apparent that both women have secrets so dark and troubling that they’ve been shut away in the vault marked ‘never to be opened.’
No wonder – one of them is a murderer.
While Her Pretty Face is a compelling whodunnit – is it Frances or is it Kate? – it has a lot more to offer including three-dimensional characters, well-timed plot twists, and chilling courtroom scenes. Harding writes very effectively about the lasting damage to victims of violent crime – the shock, the grief, and how it can wreck families with repercussions spilling down through generations. And about parenting and female friendship, it’s importance, how much we tell one another, what we hold back.
Smart, well thought-out and hugely entertaining, Her Pretty Face is perfect for a long-haul flight, a holiday – or to escape to from the real world at any time.
About the Author
Robyn Harding is the author of several books, including The Party and Her Pretty Face, and has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two children.