What if your best friend’s child disappears? And it’s all your fault. This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto – overwhelmed working mother of three – one freezing December in the Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descend into nightmare. Her best friend’s thirteen-year-old daughter Lucinda has gone missing and now, devastated by this and publicly blamed, Lisa sets out to right the wrong. But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda’s disappearance, Lisa learns that the quiet town she lives in isn’t what she thought it was, and her friends might not be who they appear to be, either…

Inspired by the story of an American mother, who succumbing to the pressures of motherhood was responsible for the death of her child, Paula Daly has constructed a thought provoking and emotive debut that skilfully addresses the issues faced by women in juggling the demands of life, work and family.  I found myself instantly engaged with the portrayal of Lisa, a married, working mother of three who appears to have been partly responsible for the sudden disappearance of a friend’s child, and the subsequent feelings of guilt and sense of betrayal that start to surround her. Lisa begins to doubt her own competence as a mother when she sets herself against her seemingly perfect friend Kate (whose daughter Lucinda has gone missing), and embarks on a course of action that not only exposes the weaknesses in her own marriage, but uncovers some very uncomfortable truths in this close knit community.

In order to avoid spoilers I will not dwell on the plot too much, as this is one of those books that as a reviewer it is difficult to review without giving away the most salient details and spoiling your enjoyment as readers. Suffice to say that with three girls going missing and being brutally attacked , the growing fear for the missing Lucinda, and the strain on the local community is perfectly detailed, and Daly ratchets up the tension as the book progresses. Daly deals nicely with the suspicions that arise in relation to both Lucinda’s family, and the pressure that builds on Lisa in relation to the central investigation, with more than a few twists along the way to maintain the reader’s interest, thankfully not relying on misplaced use of coincidences or other hackneyed plot devices. So overall a strong and engaging plot to keep the reader hooked- I can say no more!

There’s always a fear that by keeping control of a strong plot other aspects of a book may suffer but I was equally struck by the strong characterisation and the sense of place throughout the book. The book is set in the Lake District and Daly really brings to the reader’s attention, not only the wild natural beauty of this area but the very singular character of life within this community at the ebb and flow of the tourist trade and the inherent financial stresses for those native to the Lakes. Daly paints a picture of a claustrophobic social network with everyone knowing everyone’s business and how difficult it is to remain at arm’s reach from gossip and accusations. Despite Lisa’s reputation built on her sterling work at a local animal rescue centre, the tables are quickly turned on her as a wife and mother, when doubts arise as to her responsibility and involvement in, Lucinda’s disappearance(As an aside, I would applaud Daly’s depiction of the work of those involved in animal rescue and rehoming, presenting an accurate and sympathetic portrayal of these largely unsung,  hardworking individuals and the demands of this all too necessary work) Lisa too begins to question the actions of those closest to her, and Daly depicts her as a woman close to the edge, as the seeds of supicion are cast around the whole community. The characterisation in relation to the female characters in particular is exceptionally well drawn, and Daly gets good leverage out of these very different women. Lisa, scatty but likeable; Kate organised and a ‘perfect’ mother; Kate’s sister Alexa, snobbish and cold, and my favourites, DC Joanne Aspinall, a competent but slightly insecure detective tasked with investigating Lucinda’s disappearance and her ‘mad’ aunt Jackie, a borderline alcoholic who thinks nothing of saying what most folk would left unsaid. A smorgasbord of determination, humour, petty insecurities, or downright malevolence is encapsaluted in these characters, and I loved the way that Daly manipulates our emotions throughout as the sheer doggedness or conversely, the less savoury  aspects of these women’s characters, come to light over the course of the book. The male characters are a little less well-developed in my opinion, and there’s a little blip towards the end with Lisa’s husband Joe, but this is a minor niggle as I believe that it’s the women that carry the heft and drive the overall impetus of the book anyway, and Daly achieves this very successfully. An enjoyable debut, with many strong themes for discussion, that would also make this a  great pick for bookgroups.

Paula Daly lives in Cumbria with her husband and three children. She is a freelance physiotherapist and lived for a short while in France. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? is her first novel and she is currently working on her next. Join the discussion on Twitter #JWKOMAY  @pauladalyauthor

Read about Paula’s journey to publication here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/index.php/paula-dalys-journey-to-publication/

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? – 25th April 2013 (Bantam Press)

Read The Literature Monster’s review here: www.theliteraturemonster

(With thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the ARC)