by Melanie Golding
Little Darlings by Melanie Golding was a perfect novel to read in the lead-up to Halloween. This book is creepy, scary, and unsettling, in the vein of traditional fairy and folk tales. Each section begins with an excerpt from such a tale to set the disturbing mood.
During the worst drought since 1976, Lauren Tanter gave birth to twins. The hospital where she delivered didn’t allow her (rather useless) husband Patrick to stay overnight (is this normal in the UK?), so she was alone, drugged after hemorrhaging. In the middle of the night, she heard a woman singing a creepy lullaby to her own newborn twins. On the way to the bathroom, Lauren asked her to quit singing as it could disturb the other patients. Strangely, the woman’s bay had no hospital bed. She was dirty with stringy hair and her babies were in a basket. The woman asked her to switch one baby. The Tranters’ babies had every advantage; it wasn’t fair. Lauren gathered her twins, barricaded herself in the bathroom, and called 999. The responding officers determined no one was in the ward and referred the case to Mental Health Services. DS Joanna Harper, though, thought it worth investigating, even though the psychiatrist chalked the incident up to postpartum hallucinations.
Frightened, Lauren stayed in her house after she was discharged until she finally met her friends Rosa and Cindy at Bishop Valley Park. Lauren took a walk after her friends departed. Waking up, the twins’ stroller was missing. DS Harper rushed to the park and found the twins with a woman who was struggling with the stroller at the edge of the water. When DS Harper came upon them, the woman ran. Quickly captured, she claimed she wasn’t kidnapping the twins at all; she had found the babies and was returning them.
At first, Lauren was overjoyed. Then, she took the stroller and started running towards the river, convinced that the babies weren’t hers; they’d been replaced with the dirty woman’s creatures. Despite everyone’s attempts to convince Lauren otherwise, she believes that her babies aren’t her own. And, as DS Harper investigates the abduction, she begins to see evidence herself that the boys might not be the real babies.
Little Darlings has lots of provocative elements: changeling babies, a drowned city, a mysterious and similar crime from 1976. Even better, it’s ending is satisfying but ambiguous enough that it leaves the reader unsettled and disturbed, perfect for a horror tale.
Thank you to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.