It’s no coincidence that #CallMeMummy is being released in time for Mother’s Day, although this dark and twisty thriller isn’t the cosy, comforter that you’d normally associate with this heart-warming day.
‘Dark, heartbreaking and totally absorbing.’
what it says on the cover …
Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want. Except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But foul-mouthed little Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.
As Tonya fiercely resists Mummy’s attempts to make her into the perfect child, Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, Kim begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.
Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…
PUBLISHED: 25th February 2021
SHELF: thriller | suspense
AUTHOR: Tina Baker
PUBLISHER: Viper Books
FORMATS: Hardback | Paperback | Kindle
‘I take her hand and whisper puppies, kittens, promises of mermaids. She squeezes my fingers, Then I walk with her. Out of the shop. Out of my known life.‘
my review …
If ever a book’s cover were to broadcast the tone of the story within, then this designer has certainly nailed the brief! There’s something ever so chilling about that bereft pink dress, hanging so exposed under a spotlight; a light that doesn’t quite reach to the edges and can’t banish the dark shadows as your eye is drawn down to the hemline. The simplicity of the artwork, and the punchy colours are bookshelf catnip, if there is such a thing. I was also rather delighted to learn that the author is donating 10% of the book’s royalties to the Action for Children charity 👏🏻
Call Me Mummy is based on a familiar premise; a kidnapped child, a frantic family, and a kidnapper with issues! But unlike other books of this nature, Call Me Mummy isn’t about the police investigation; it’s about the stories of the two women and their experiences as the hours become days, become weeks, become months. It’s also striking in how far it stands out from the crowd, casting Kim, the kidnapped child’s mother, as a character who doesn’t conform to the organic-foodie-jojomamambébé-shopping-yummy-mummy type that we see time and time again in child abduction novels. It’s a bit of a culture shock, and took a little time to settle with, but the further I got into the book the more I admired this brave new direction.
The chapters of the book are short and potent, making it all too easy to kid yourself that you’ll just read one more. That won’t be possible. Once you start reading, you’ll be hooked by the speed at which the drama unfolds, with the abduction itself taking place within the first few pages. From therein, each subsequent chapter – narrated in turn by Kim, and the character we’ll only ever know as ‘Mummy’ – is fraught with a palpable and rising fear, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding that defies you to look away even for a moment.
Mummy has worked hard to create the impression of a perfect life – her appearance, her home, her diet, her preference for notoriously expensive designer products. But it’s a tissue-thin façade that can never assuage her profound yearning for a child of her own, a child she’s unable to bear … and a child she’s not capable of caring for. She’s extremely vulnerable, and yet powerfully driven, so when she spots five-year-old Tonya out of sight of her harassed mother, her mind is set. One glance at foul-mouthed, heavily-pregnant Kim is all it takes for Mummy to convince herself she’s saving the child; Mummy’s vitriolic and judgmental inner monologue is damning …. and it plays so well to the prejudices of the reader.
As far as we know, this wasn’t a premeditated kidnapping, and yet Mummy manages to get away from the shop and out of the Christmas-busy shopping centre, carrying Tonya all the way to her woefully child-unfriendly home. It doesn’t take long for Kim to realise Tonya is missing, and the plot propels rapidly onwards through the surreal hours at the police station and into the immediate aftermath of public support, collections, and searches. But Kim isn’t a gentrified, headline-friendly mother – far from it. Almost overnight, the tide of public opinion turns against Kim, and she’s vilified, branded a ‘scummy mummy’, judged by the nation thanks to an unsympathetic press and the outright cruelty of social media.
Tonya is a delightfully wilful and boisterous character – one I really enjoyed! Her nature is entirely at odds with Mummy’s devout expectations of a diminutive, obedient little girl she could dress up in expensive pretty dresses. Occasionally, the book is punctuated by very brief chapters written by Tonya. They’re fleeting reassurances that her spirit isn’t broken, and the little girl’s feisty temperament becomes a resounding endorsement of Kim’s controversial style of mothering. But towards the latter third of the book something changes in these chapters; the tone, content and sentiment suddenly become distinctly more adult, and the hitherto credible voice of five-year-old Tonya’s is lost.
Mummy’s idealised notion of motherhood is quick to crumble. Her home – so carefully curated, and so uncomfortably expensive – is as ill-equipped for raising a child as Mummy is. Her chapters become increasingly volatile as she seeks solace in alcohol, and strives to instil discipline in Tonya through an escalating series of punishments, deprivations and – most chillingly – exorcisms. Mummy’s shattered mind is depicted well though her fractured, chaotic narrative as it hops from the present day to recollections from her own horrific childhood. But despite her unarguably awful early years I just couldn’t find it in myself to feel anything for this character. Yes, she was definitely a fabulous fictional ‘baddie’, but that’s as far as my reader relationship progressed with Mummy.
Kim, however, was an entirely fascinating character. She’s prickly, confrontational and entirely provocative, and she’s going to divide opinions. Initially, I was influenced by the Kim we saw first – through Mummy’s eyes – but as the book progressed I found myself liking her, more and more. Kim is clearly abrasive by nature, but it’s her own facade against a world that’s been as brutally cruel to her as it has to Mummy. But whereas Mummy is still a prisoner of her upbringing, Kim fights hers every day, never granting herself the peace of mind of forgetting it; a daily reminder of a history to avoid repeating at all costs. For all her faults, Kim’s instinctively maternal and cares fiercely about her children. I really enjoyed Kim’s chapters – my heart broke for her a little more with each revelation, and it was upsetting to follow her decline into postnatal depression. But she’s a fighter who rewards the reader with a wonderful sense of triumph; I’d urge every reader to look beyond the defensive aggression and allow the author’s superb development of this spiky character work its magic on you too.
For all its superb tension, dark plot and relentless twists, however, the conclusion of the book has left me a little adrift. I can’t say too much because I really don’t want to spoil this story for you, but I found the final chapters were neither a cliff-hanger nor a well-rounded conclusion. I was also a little uncomfortable with an overly heavy reliance on stereotyped social constructs to pigeonhole Kim in a scummy mummy character. Yes, the book is written to flip tired the victim-mother narrative on its head, but there were a few too many clichés for my liking. Without a doubt, Call Me Mummy is the epitome of a gripping page-turner … a book I’d whole heartedly recommend to everyone who likes to lose themselves in a cracking-good read.
my rating …
Thank you to NetGalley and Viper Books for granting me this advance copy of #CallMeMummy in return for an honest review.
Tina Baker, the daughter of a window cleaner and fairground traveller, worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years and is probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV. After so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it and won Celebrity Fit Club. She now avoids writing-induced DVT by working as a Fitness Instructor. Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to become a mother. Despite the grief of that, she’s not stolen a child – so far. But she does rescue cats, whether they want to be rescued or not.
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