One morning in New York in July 1965, in ‘a quiet neighbourhood, not the kind of place where kids went missing’, a 26-year-old cocktail waitress telephoned her estranged husband demanding to know if he’d taken the children, who’d disappeared from their bedroom overnight. He denied doing anything of the kind; eventually the children were found dead. The lead detective rapidly surmised, from the mother’s carefully made-up face and figure-hugging clothes (she didn’t ‘look how a woman should look when her kids go missing’), as well as from evidence that she drank and enjoyed a varied sex life, that she was the only likely suspect. This proved sufficient evidence for the media, the public and finally, along with doubtful allegations made belatedly by an ex-lover and a neighbour, for a jury as well. The father, deemed to be appropriately distressed, moral and ‘a little slow’, never came under serious suspicion, despite discrepancies in his statement. In the absence of conclusive evidence, the young woman was convicted on the basis of her character.
This is the framework that Emma Flint’s debut appropriates from the Alice Crimmins case, one that has inspired several writers already. Flint’s protagonist, Ruth Malone, keeps – among other trappings – Crimmins’s hair colour, nickname (‘Rusty’) and the prodigious sex appeal that incited so much fascinated resentment among the