Happy Ever After

Written by C.C. MacDonald

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Happy Ever After
Marvil Secker
RRP: £12.99
Released: January 23 2020

Harvill’s promotional material calls this book the publisher’s Lead Crime Debut for this year. And for once, the words are not simple hubris. Happy Ever After is a knockout, a page-turner that helped this reviewer survive a four-hour coach journey.

Regular Shots! readers will divine from page one that the Happy of the title is utterly ironic. Naomi Fallon is a thirty-something erstwhile hipster, now a refugee onto the west coast from London. Cute baby – check, handsome intelligent husband – check, interesting career – check, view of the sea – check. And yet, all is not well in Naomi’s life. She and hubby Charlie, a professional inventor of ‘stuff’, are trying for a second kid as they don’t wish toddler Prue to grow up as an only child.

So, the book starts off as a curated diary of Charlie and Naomi’s, of sorts - sometimes comical but mostly frustrating (eg. attempts to plant the right seed, in the right place, at the right time). The pages are dotted with the kinds of studies and articles couples looking to reproduce must consult with increasing anxiety and scepticism. The Fallon’s jitters are aggravated by the ongoing work on their new house, much more of a fixer-upper than either spouse anticipated.

Enter Sean, most women’s (including Naomi’s) wet dream made flesh. Picking his little tyke Greg up from nursery, he is tall, hunky, a generous father to the adorable tyke. Sean instantly gets Naomi’s juices flowing. And nobody will be surprised that quite a few juices flow on their fourth encounter. That meeting culminates in a frantic grapple in a public shower – didn’t sound very comfortable to me. And lo and behold, a few weeks later, Naomi’s little white stick indicates Prue will have a sibling within 7-8 months.

At that point, the reader is waiting for the showdown between hunk # 1 (Charlie) and hunk #2. We’re expecting conflict, paternity tests, tears and a rocky ride for the new Fallon sproglet.

But Macdonald is much too clever to leave it at that. The plot of Happy slithers and shimmies with the slipperiness of a Slinky toy. Let’s just say this town near Bournemouth is rife with lies, deceit, illicit shtupping and people who claim to be one thing, but they are very much not.

Happy cheerfully leads the reader astray with much of the misdirection attributed to the house itself – there are perils aplenty from dodgy woodwork to a shaky Juliet balcony.

There are also subplots that take the reader’s eye off the ball. Most worked; though Sean’s other girlfriend and their interaction didn’t do much for me.

Overall, however, this book initially proceeds at the pace of ovulatory cycles and disappointments, then comes the evolution of a pregnancy. It has a rhythm and a character all its own. A thriller, but also a meditation on childbirth, child-rearing and responsibility, it worked for me on many levels.

There’s much more than an embryo of talent here. Macdonald has skill and ideas that are fully formed and should give birth to other noteworthy novels.

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