All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

on June 26, 2019

The Accusation 
Wendy James
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A bizarre abduction. A body of damning evidence. A world of betrayal.

Eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, clad only in ill-fitting pyjamas. Her story of kidnap and escape quickly enthrals the nation: a middle-aged woman with a crazy old mother has held Ellie in a basement, chained her to a bed and given her drinks from an old baby’s sippy cup. But who was this woman and what did she want with Ellie? And what other secrets might she hide?

When the accusation is levelled at local teacher Suzannah Wells, no one seems more bewildered than Suzannah herself … to start with. The preposterous charge becomes manifestly more real as she loses her job and her friends. And the evidence is strong: a dementia-affected mother, a house with a basement, a sippy cup that belonged to her long-dead daughter. And Ellie Canning’s DNA everywhere. As stories about Susannah’s past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt she’s innocent.

And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

Wendy James has been one of my favourite authors since I read The Mistake quite a few years ago now. She writes these Australian domestic thrillers with incredible twists and I always find myself gripped from the first page until the last. And The Accusation is no different.

Suzannah Wells hasn’t been in the isolated town of Enfield Wash very long. She moved from Sydney in order to get her mother closer to a care home that has a shorter waitlist. Mary isn’t well, suffering from something a bit like Alzheimers but is more alcohol abuse related. There are times when she’s lucid and docile and you wouldn’t realise she has an illness. And then there are other times when she’s forgetful, abusive and disruptive. Suzannah undertakes the bulk of Mary’s care, hiring a local nurse to look in on her when she’s teaching drama at the nearby high school.

Ellie Canning is discovered almost unconscious by a farmer in one of his outbuildings. She claims that she was drugged and kidnapped in Sydney, held in a room by two women and escaped after several weeks of captivity. She doesn’t know the identify of her captors but given where she was found and her weakened state, it must be within a certain radius and the local police search quickly through houses deemed most likely within a location Ellie would be capable of fleeing from. Suzannah is shocked when the police return to her house, claiming that Ellie has described the basement-style room of her new house perfectly.

Who is telling the truth? Is it Ellie, whose story has captured the nation? She has spent a large portion of her life in foster care, with her mother constantly relapsing into a drug addiction. She was in Sydney to interview for a position at a university residential house and the public are taken with this determined young girl, struggling to overcome the disadvantage of her background and get herself educated by sheer hard work. Who would kidnap her and why? Especially when Ellie claims that her kidnappers were women, which pretty much goes against everything of the ‘type’ of crime. Suzannah claims to have never met Ellie, never heard of her until her story broke on the news. And what possible motivation could she have for kidnapping her and holding her hostage in the basement? And if she did do it, as Ellie claims, how did no one notice that Ellie was downstairs? Suzannah has a carer coming in to check on Mary, she’s struck up a friendship with a woman who grew up in the town and now comes back on occasional weekends and she’s also struck up a friendship of sorts with Chip Gascoyne, who owned the house Suzannah purchased. Chip is her neighbour and has wandered over many times for a meal and to share a bottle of wine. Surely he’d have noticed if she had to keep disappearing to the basement or if there were any weird noises coming from there…..right?

This is based on a true story, something that happened in England over 260 years ago. I’d never heard of it before reading this book and I did a little bit of reading on it after and Wendy James has adapted that historical event brilliantly into a modern day rural Australian setting. Suzannah is in her forties, recently new to the town and has already kind of made some waves. She’s a former soap star from the 1990s, acting in a sort of Paradise Beach or Home And Away type of show and then dropped off the public radar after her time on the show ended. However when she’s accused of this terrible crime and identified by Ellie Canning, her history is all dug up and splashed across the gossip pages for people to pore over and judge. Things that she did when she was in her 20s, whether they be real or mostly fabricated press stories anyway, were rehashed and a tragic life event was reshaped as something more sinister. There’s a lot of really current relevant stuff in here, such as the rise of instagram and social media ‘influencers’ including people who use something that happens to them to spin that into a career. Ellie is hailed as something of a hero after her escape, with interview offers pouring in, she has to hire a media manager type person in order to control and handle everything. She is seen as the epitome of a survivor, raising herself up in spite of her poor background and the lack of people who cared about her (no one even really noticed she was missing) and also freeing herself from a gross captivity, speaking about it with poise and grace. She’s the perfect interview, her popularity surging…..but is it all real? There’s also the ‘fake news’ exploration, which has risen to popularity in the era of Donald Trump, who denounces anything negative about him or positive about someone else as ‘fake news’ and now it’s become the catch cry for anything that someone doesn’t want to believe. In fact it’s been used so much it’s almost ceased to have any legitimate meaning in some ways, because it’s not always about what’s fake, it’s also about what people don’t want you to believe. You can also create a narrative that suits you, be it real or not, with some clever usage of social media, which ties back to the influencers and how much of what they show is real and how much is artfully constructed to portray a certain image to best boost their profile and garner the best offers and attention.

I really enjoyed the way this was told, in three parts and with excerpts from a Netflix style documentary, which is being produced after the conclusion of the investigation and trials. I was engaged from the first page and the predicament of Suzannah’s guilt or innocence was something I thought I was right about but…..Wendy James made me question pretty much everything I believed at one stage or another in the story. This is full of clever writing and excellent character work.


Book #94 of 2019

The Accusation is book #43 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019




15 responses to “Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

  1. Does it resolve? Do you find out the truth by the end?

  2. Okay first of all, I just caught that ending that you said you’ve read 94 books this year already?! You’re a freaking rockstar! That’s gotta be like 5 books a day or something crazy like that. Congratulations!

    Second, I had no idea that this would be based on a true story, but one that took place over 200 years ago! I think that shows how brilliant an author is to take something “historic” and make it modern but still make sense. Awesome review as always ❤

    • Haha thank you! It’s about 4-5 a week I think although the last month I have dropped off a bit and GR is about to warn me I’m behind in my goal lol.

      Totally agree that it takes someone very talented to adapt a story from so long ago to such a modern setting and to do it so well. When I went back and read the story of the original crime, I was astounded at just how much Wendy James had managed to incorporate and how well it had actually shaped up as a story in its own right too.

      Thanks so much for your kind words, much appreciated! 🙂

  3. bookbathbrew says:

    This sounds amazing.
    I’ve just looked and I don’t think it’s out in the UK yet but I’m definitely going to read it when it is

  4. […] The Accusation by Wendy James. My review. […]

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