Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

‘I told the truth, near enough.  Or the truth as I saw it.’

James Whitehouse, a junior minister in the British Home Office, seems to have it all.  Educated at Oxford, James is privileged, handsome, well-off and the prime minister’s closest friend.  He’s been married to Sophie for 12 years, and they have two children, Emily and Toby. He comes home late one night and, in advance of the tabloid headlines, confesses that’s he’s had an affair with his assistant, Olivia.  The affair is finished, he tells Sophie. And then eleven days later, just as Sophie seems to be coming to terms with this infidelity, James is arrested.  Olivia has filed a charge of rape against him.

The prosecuting barrister is: Kate Woodcroft, a highly experienced specialist in prosecuting sexual crimes.  James’s defence barrister is Angela Regan. Both women know that whether James is found guilty or innocent will depend more on their skills in convincing a jury than it does on the truth.

Our view of James’s trial is given from the alternate points of Kate, Sophie and James. But is James innocent or guilty of raping Olivia?  Did she consent, as he claims?  Sophie want to believe that James in innocent.  Kate is convinced that James is guilty.

But there’s another story unfolding as well.  Set in the early 1990s, when Sophie, James, Tom Southern (the prime minister) and a girl named Holly were all studying at Oxford.  Something happened at Oxford then.  Something which caused Holly to leave.  Something that James and Tom hope remains in the past.

This is Sarah Vaughan’s third novel, and I enjoyed it.  While I think most readers will work out Holly’s place in this story comparatively early, this knowledge didn’t negatively impact on my enjoyment.  ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ depicts three people, each of whom has been shaped (for better or worse) by their life experiences.  And the ending?  It worked for me.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith