‘The Mistake’ by Wendy James

The old saying is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Well I do. All the time. First impressions count (although it doesn’t always mean they are correct). The Mistake by Wendy James does not have a cover that attracts me – it’s a bit too soft, a bit too ‘middle-aged-mum-trash’ and the big, gold ‘Women’s Weekly Great Read’ sticker on the front confirms my suspicions. So, why did I hand over $24.99 for The Mistake?

The answer – Keli Lane. Tegan Lane. The Mistake is fictional but based on the true, unsolved crime of the disappearance of newborn Tegan Lane – a story that I have followed for seven or eight years. I think it grabbed my attention because I had my children over the time the story unfolded and as a new mother, so much of Keli’s situation seemed bizarre and beyond belief.

Oddly, none of the reviews I’ve read of The Mistake mention Keli Lane. And yet, the blurb reads –

“Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she adopts out the baby illegally– and tells nobody. Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a new life and a new family. But when a chance meeting brings the adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes caught in a nationwide police investigation, and the centre of a media witch hunt. What happened to Jodie’s baby? And where is she now? “

Putting the ‘borrowed plot’ aside, James’s writing style is easy-to-read and the book is without doubt a page-turner (especially because you know it will have a conclusion, unlike the Keli Lane story). The characters are clear and well-established, if not slightly predictable (the snobbish mother-in-law, the philandering rich-boy husband, Jodie’s friends that are really no more than acquaintances, the bratty, semi-rebellious teenage daughter).

Jodie’s mother-in-law, Helen, says to her before the story of the missing baby breaks –

“‘Jodie. I know I’m an old woman now, and I’m probably rather out of the social loop – it happens when you get old, you know…. But credit me with some understanding of these matters. You’re about to be at the centre of what we in the olden days used to call a scandal.'”

And so the scandal unfolds. The text is interspersed with ‘newspaper articles’ which give a little more weight to the ‘media witch-hunt’ angle although ultimately are not as interesting as the descriptions of Jodie trawling the internet, reading the comments about her and pondering who supplied the newspapers with photos of her. Without spoiling the story, James ties up the loose ends satisfactorily.

I couldn’t help but note another reference in The Mistake to an equally tragic true life case – Robert Farquharson was accused of murdering his three sons by driving them into a dam. James references this with the mention of a woman in Jodie Garrow’s town who does the same. Inspiration is just a newspaper away!

A sticky situation deserves sticky chicken. Pair The Mistake with one of my favourite recipes – caramelised chicken cutlets.

2/5 That’s probably a bit tight because it was a true page turner. But… But… Just a bit close to the very real Tegan Lane/ Keli Lane story for me.

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3 responses

  1. A post-script to this post: I found an article in The Australian by Wendy James which is well worth a read – http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/truth-lies-and-intrusion/story-fn9n8gph-1226303882847 It deals with media witch-hunts, Keli Lane and James’ own mother saying to James “Wendy. You can’t write that story. They’re (the Lanes) real people.”

    The similarities are still there for me but it was very, very interesting to read James address it head-on.

    Note: the article is behing The Australian’s pay-wall 😦 But you can register for free for 28 days 🙂

  2. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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