HER FIRST CHILD
New mother Eve is overwhelmed with love for her baby son, Kai. As she swaddles him in a fluffy white blanket, she shudders at a memory of her own childhood. She hasn’t seen her heartless mother Lydia in years, and she hasn’t told a soul about what really happened the night her baby brother died in the squalid little house she grew up in…
When the phone rings in the dead of night, Eve’s heart pounds as she hears the voice at the other end. ‘Hello Mother’, she replies, an ice-cold chill creeping down her spine. She grips her son’s tiny frame close to her trembling chest as she reluctantly agrees to let her mother visit.
But when Eve has to make an emergency call from Kai’s bedroom early one morning, she curses herself for allowing her mother back into her perfect little family.
‘Kai was fine when I checked on him a few hours ago.’ Her mother says, breathlessly as she watches her daughter’s face change from fear to rage.
Why was Lydia in Kai’s bedroom during the night? And as Lydia pleads her innocence, could it be that she’s not the most dangerous mother in this family?
Sheryl Browne writes psychological thrillers and edgy contemporary fiction.
A member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and awarded a Red Ribbon by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards, Sheryl has several books published and two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies, where she completed her MA in Creative Writing.
“I find inspiration in people, and the whole gamut of emotion that comes with them. I’ve always been fascinated by what shapes people and whatever genre I write in I like to strip away the layers and, hopefully, share with readers a little of what lies beneath the surface. A writer’s mind thrives on exploration. Every scenario, every place, every face tells a story. I see people as not all good or all bad, more opposite sides of the same spectrum with some crossover in between”
“Her First Child is a story about a family struggling under the tyrannical rule of an abusive father. The story is told from the point of view of the mother, Lydia, and her daughter, Eve. They are both able to tell their story; they both have a voice. Sadly, the tiniest member of the family is not yet old enough to have one. Who is to be believed: Eve, who goes somewhere else in her head to escape her reality, or Lydia, who is very present in hers?”
“The man walking the length of the corridor towards me looks out of place, purposeful. People are generally not like that here, often walking around randomly, mumbling to themselves. Or else very quiet, stuck in their heads, staring off into space. It’s usually quiet. Sterile. No clutter or mess, the walls all painted in calming soft pastels or white”
CHAPTER ONE – THE PRESENT – EVE
“Eve was with a young patient when her phone alerted her to a text. Quickly she checked it. Your mother’s here, she read, and her heart stopped dead. She’d come to her house? A knot of dread tightened like a hard fist inside her. Why? After all these years?”
“Her husband had been a monster, but there’d been no one else in her life since, as far as Eve knew. But then she’d been damaged by a marriage that had been made in hell. That much had finally become obvious to Eve. She herself had been damaged too, and now she wanted no part of her past creeping back to harm her family”
“She couldn’t put her finger on when it had started to go wrong between them, when he’d started noticing all the things she apparently did wrong rather than all the nice things she tried to do for him. When he’d stopped seeing her as a human being. It had happened day by day, drip by drip, until she felt as if who she was had been washed away”
“The sad fact was that sometimes you simply had to give up on people. Not because you didn’t care, but because they didn’t”
“But do you have to be in constant contact to prove your friendship?” he asked. “It’s just that in my opinion, a good friend is someone who’s there if you need them but who also respects your boundaries”
“It was a classic tactic. She’d lived with it, lived her childhood with people who were masters at deflecting blame to justify their own monstrous behaviour”
“Love was a fickle beast, wasn’t it, transient and painful, twisted, possessive. It could drive people to all sorts of madness, even murder”
“A perfect mother. A loving daughter. A secret that could destroy them both”
Okay! Will somebody please explain exactly what has just happened to me…
This book definitely needs to come with a health warning. I think I have read a psychological thriller, which has not only messed with my mind, but left me physically feeling as though I have been eaten alive, chewed up and spat out. And I’m still not really certain who did what to whom, how, where, why or even when… Answers on a postcard please!
But wait, I am getting a little ahead of myself now, so let’s backtrack a bit…
The story begins in 1997, with Eve, a nine-year-old, living with her parents and new baby brother. Hers is not a happy life however, as her father David, is a coercive and controlling bully, with a temper which seems to change direction with the wind and who was in no rush to have a second child underfoot; another mouth to feed and to add disruption to his strict regimes. Her mother Lydia, is always kept short of money and is expected to ensure that peace and quiet reigns in the house when her husband is at home. Suffering from what these days would undoubtedly be recognised as post natal depression, Lydia feels she has no other tools with which to keep calm in the home other than by ignoring Eve completely, as if by not speaking to, or acknowledging her presence, she will force Eve herself to maintain a silence which will be enough to pacify her father. Lydia, perhaps mistakenly, truly believes that she is protecting Eve, when actually her daughter is left feeling unloved and unwanted, unlike baby Jacob. Shunned by her classmates at school because she wears dirty and ill-fitting clothes and isn’t able to participate in any out of school activities, means that Eve lives a very lonely and solitary existence, with the exception of her one and only friend, Chloe, on whom she perhaps mistakenly, becomes totally dependent.
All is not well with Jacob’s health though and there seems to be a constant round of illnesses, hospital stays and near death experiences, before the poor mite finally succumbs and passes away. It is only during the spells when Jacob is very sick that David shows any compassion for his children and affection for Lydia, making these, despite the tragic circumstances which cause them, welcome respites for all. For Eve, the frequent visits to the hospital open up great new prospects for her future. She spends every moment of the lengthy wait times, chatting to one of the doctors about Jacob’s various ailments, which she then follows up by hours spent on the internet at Chloe’s house, doing her own research. Following Jacob’s death, David no longer lives at the family home, leaving Eve and Lydia to their own devices. Rather than bringing them closer together however, the wedge which Lydia had previously driven between them only becomes exacerbated and Lydia decides to seek psychiatric help for Eve, which only serves to see them become estranged completely.
Fast forward to the present day: Eve is now a qualified GP, married to Dominic the man of her dreams and new parents to baby Kai. With Chloe, her husband and two young children, living in the house right opposite, it seems as though Eve has the perfect life, until that fateful day when the phone rings and it is her mother calling… Things very quickly begin to unravel for Eve and cracks begin to show in the polished veneer she has built around herself. Although he knows that Eve had survived a troubled childhood, it soon becomes clear to Dom that he is only in possession of the most basic of facts about his wife’s past and when challenged, she is unwilling, or unable to trust him enough to open up to him completely, which leaves him feeling afraid for the wellbeing of baby Kai, fearful for the future of their relationship and very susceptible to the whisperings of someone whom both he and Eve had thought they could trust.
Lydia suffers a stroke and in another totally unexpected and rather strange turn up for the books, Eve decides to move in with and care for her mother. Is there a more deep and dark motive for her sudden change of heart? With tension between Chloe, her husband Steve, Dominic and Eve, almost at breaking point, Lydia and Chloe are both victims of separate attacks, clearly motivated by the hope that either one or both of them will die. Who has the most to lose from these complicated and surreal events? Will the wheels of justice stop at the right person, or will someone who is guilty be able to deflect the blame once again?
So many questions, I just hope you are up to the challenge of finding the correct answers!
This well structured, multi-layered storyline was powerful, highly textured and intense. Fast paced, the atmosphere for the most part was desperately tense, claustrophobic and totally immersive.
Short, well signposted chapters were narrated in the voices of Eve, Chloe and Lydia and were predominantly focussed on two timelines, 1997 when Eve and Chloe were nine and baby Jacob had just been born and the present day, although there were one or two diversions into the year 2000, when Lydia had decided that Eve should be seen by a psychiatrist.
That’s where anything uncomplicated about this story ended, as there were more and more clues drip-fed into the narrative little by little, nothing was quite as it seemed and the twists and turns just kept on coming – and I mean right to the very end, which I am still not sure I figured out correctly! Author Sheryl Browne just about threw in the kitchen sink when she was putting this plot together, including everything from bullying, coercive control, emotional and psychological abuse; to jealousy, cheating and illnesses both real and imagined including Munchausen syndrome by proxy. That’s without the tangled web of lies and secrets which overlaid everything, until I just didn’t know who to believe any more.
This story was definitely all about the characters and plot, with location being irrelevant and barely mentioned, so if you are a committed ‘armchair traveller’ then this probably isn’t going to be one for you. Although I’m certain you won’t be left feeling short-changed with all those love to hate characters Sheryl has filled this thriller with. Not a huge central cast, but what they lacked in numbers was more than compensated for by the sheer malevolence, deviousness and manipulative qualities they all displayed. I was never really sure just who I was meant to have sympathy for, or empathy with, so found myself sticking them all in one box marked ‘cheats, frauds and liars’. I genuinely wanted to believe in a couple of them, however they were such an emotional mess, that uncovering and exposing their true motives and feelings, or finding any authenticity about them, was almost impossible.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story definitely scored heavily in just about all of those criteria, having the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor indeed the next.
If anyone familiar with this book happens to read this slightly garbled review, then please put me out of my misery, as everyone seems divided about the outcome and I have been left an emotionally exhausted wreck, trying to get my head around it all!! But I loved the finished book and aim to try and work my way down Sheryl’s list of titles 🙂
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
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