LULLABY is about the worst nightmare-situation imaginable: the loss of a child. A young woman, Jess, and her older husband Mickey are out for the day with their baby Louis. They become separated, and Jess, from whose point of view the book is told, cannot find her husband or baby – and her bag, containing her mobile phone, is on the back of the missing buggy. The first chapters of this neat thriller build up the tension, as Jess becomes increasingly desperate when Mickey fails to come home and cannot be contacted. Her insecurities become magnified into paranoia as a result of the presumed abduction of her son.The police are not very sympathetic and don't take the case seriously for a while, particularly when they discover Jess's earlier post-natal depression.
LULLABY is a page-turner, yet I felt an increasing level of irritation with the wet main character as it progressed. It turns out that Jess barely knows Mickey and let him sweep her off her feet into an instant marriage when she fell pregnant. Nobody at his office knows his movements or anything about his working lifestyle. Facts and characters pop up out of nowhere as the book progresses. Jess is a passive character, allowing herself to be dominated by her au pair and her sister, as well as putting up with the patronising behaviour and inappropriate terms of endearment from DI Silver, the policeman in charge of the case.
I was mentally encouraging Jess as she gradually came out of her self-imposed ignorance and took more control of her life. Yet to keep the plot going, she avoids telling the police about leads: for example she deliberately puts herself in danger more than once at the hands of her drug-addicted brother and an unconvincingly portrayed crime boss, and she allows her au pair to keep a key to the house and to entertain her boyfriend there, even though she has good reason to be suspicious of them both. More by luck than judgement, Jess gradually uncovers more about her husband's life, and through that route works through a selection of minor characters and red herrings until she eventually discovers what happened to Louis – although the solution is a slight cheat as it relies on a degree of disinformation and omission. Inevitably, Jess's discovery about Louis's abduction puts her in a perilous position, but she hangs on for the sake of her son, and in a coda (also somewhat cliched) she seems on the brink of growing up.
The publishers of LULLABY liken it to the style perfected by Nicci French, but although the themes of domestic life turned to nightmare are similar, and the descriptions of post-natal depression are particularly well done, I feel that the comparison is not yet justified. LULLABY also contains elements of Martina Cole's books: for example the gangland characters, the family troubles, and the wealthy lifestyle that Jess has accepted unquestioningly since her marriage.
Once you have started LULLABY you will have to finish it, if only to find out what happens to the lost baby. One difficulty for me is that I found none of the characters particularly likeable; indeed, many of them did not seem very believable either. The book is a good, lightweight pastiche of contemporary themes, but does not cohere into a convincing whole.