Wendy James: The Accusation

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These were only the public sites, the ones I could see – the open forums, the less mainstream, and sometimes completely dodgy news sites.  Their dodginess didn’t seem to matter – whatever they reported, regardless of whether it was true or false, would be accepted by some, and often by many, as the truth. And then there were all the other sites that couldn’t be seen, the private forums, Facebook pages, Snapchat communications, where the gossip moved like wildfire, where stories could be shared by hundreds, thousands, without any threat of exposure or censure.

 …. I might as well forget the formal legal process: this was where I was being tried by these thousands and thousands of people who had nothing at stake, and who were enjoying every moment of their own outrage. (180)

The Accusation is a modern take on Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair, which itself was a transposition to post-war England of a famous abduction case in the 18th century. Suzannah Wells is accused of kidnapping a young girl, Ellie Canning, for a purpose that is never clear but is much speculated about in the media, which digs into Suzannah’s past to find anything that suggests she’s the sort of psychopath that would do this to a beautiful, innocent young girl. As her lawyer says, “I’m afraid truth isn’t the only thing that matters in law, Suzannah. And out in the real world it doesn’t matter at all.”  The “real world”, unfortunately, is as unreal as it gets, made up of what people are saying and choosing to believe. And the terrible power of the media to make and break lives has been magnified in our times by the wildfire of social media. In The Franchise Affair a rag of a newspaper stirs up a vicious local response against the women accused; in The Accusation Ellie Canning’s story goes round the world, and she becomes a media celebrity, an Instagram star and a voice for oppressed women. This really is something new, the way a personality created in social media rises above any evidence, and the skills people are learning in creating and monetarising these personalities.

We’re on Suzannah’s side, but if Ellie Canning is lying, what’s her motive, and why is there so much evidence of Suzannah’s guilt?  “Queen of the domestic thriller” the blurb calls Wendy James, and she certainly spins a suspenseful tale that keeps you on the hook.  Read both of them; the comparison is fascinating.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Wendy James: The Accusation

  1. I admired The Franchise Affair when I read it and it seems to me that it would be a hard act to follow, though, as you point out, the way social media creates celebrities is a powerful topic for fiction. I don’t know about the handle ‘domestic thriller’. I was writing these years ago in Canberra, but no one called them that then. Indeed some reviewers looked down their noses
    at me for concentrating on domestic detail.

    1. This is different from your books in that it really is intensely domestic, i.e mums taking kids to school and hanging out the washing and looking after their old parents and that aspect is more focussed on than it was in your Canberra novels. I’ve just read another by Carmel Reilly that was even more “domestic” and I found it rather suffocating.

  2. Very interesting. I really liked The Franchise Affair — it’s the only Tey I’ve read so far — but I’m not sure how I feel about a contemporary spin on the central idea. Contemporary psychological figures are not my usual thing, but you do make it sound very compelling.

  3. Thank you for responding to my comment about ‘domestic thrillers’. The question is, how do domestic details work in the narrative as a whole? Do they create/add to the sense of threat or menace? Do they provide relief from it? A sense of ‘suffocation’ may contribute to the author’s overall purpose, or it may mean the author doesn’t really understand the material she is working with.

  4. I think you will find Josephine Teys books are in the public arena now and available from Gutenberg free!
    Just download.
    I loved all of hers but Daughter of Time really stood out

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