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.