Wednesday 1st August, 2018. In the early hours of the morning, a dairy farmer discovers a teenage girl in a disused hut on his property, just outside the sleepy little town of Enfield Wash in regional New South Wales. The girl is wearing nothing more than a pair of thin, ill-fitting pyjamas, and she’s unconscious.
After being rushed to the local hospital and treated for shock and hypothermia, the girl identifies herself as Ellie Canning, and with a still shaky voice, tells a chilling story of being abducted and held captive by a middle-aged woman – chained to a bed for a month in the woman’s basement, forced to drink from a child’s sippy cup, and taunted by the woman’s crazy old mother.
The story of Ellie’s bizarre abduction spreads like wildfire, and when local high school drama teacher Suzanne Wells comes into work the next morning, it’s all her students can talk about. They have even more to talk about when the police come knocking at Suzanne’s door a few days later, and news spreads that Ellie Canning recalls the site of her ordeal as a house very similar to Suzanne’s. Ellie’s description of her captor is unnervingly similar to Suzanne, too.
At first, it seems like a preposterous accusation. Suzanne is well respected in Enfield Wash, and her students love her. But the evidence begins to pile up: Suzanne’s house has a basement, she lives with her dementia-affected mother, and even more damning than that, Ellie Canning’s DNA is everywhere. As the media digs deeper, disturbing stories about Suzanne’s past begin to emerge, and she loses her friends and her job, with even those closest doubting her innocence.
Meanwhile, Ellie Canning becomes a media darling and a girl-power icon, invited to speak at seminars and talk shows on trauma, empowerment and victim-blaming. But was Ellie really abducted? Could she have made her story up for media attention? Might Suzanne be blameless after all? As tensions rise, it becomes more and more urgent to determine which of the women is telling the truth…
The latest novel from award winning Australian author Wendy James, The Accusation is a searing exploration of innocence, guilt, deception and betrayal. Based on a scandalous and much-publicised 18th Century criminal case in which an English maidservant claimed to have been abducted and held captive in a hayloft by two older women, this book makes some important points about the power of suggestion, the danger of the mob mentality, and the role of the media in shaping and manipulating public opinion, with Ellie quickly cast as a brave victim, Suzanne a monstrous villain.
Told from multiple viewpoints and jam packed with complex, intriguing female characters whose morals and behaviour all become suspect at some point, The Accusation will grip you from page one, with James ratcheting up the tension and twisting and turning the plot until the very end. The story’s small town setting adds perfectly to the atmosphere, too: in a tight knit community where everyone knows everyone, Suzanne has nowhere to hide, and her increasing discomfort and claustrophobia heighten the intensity of the story.
Intelligent, suspenseful, and masterfully paced, with a killer twist in the tail, The Accusation is domestic noir at its best, perfect for fans of Adele Parks, Caroline Overington and Liane Moriarty.
An unputdownable read.
Wendy James is the celebrated author of eight novels, including the bestselling The Mistake and the compelling The Golden Child, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for crime. Her debut novel, Out of the Silence, won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award for first crime novel, and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie award for women’s writing. Wendy works as an editor at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation and writes some of the sharpest and most topical domestic noir novels in the country.