The Rumor: A Novel

Image of The Rumor: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 18, 2019
Ballantine Books
Reviewed by: 

“Lesley Kara’s The Rumor is a brisk and smartly written mystery about women, the intricacies of their social circle, and secrets that, if revealed, may have deadly consequences.”

How do you make friends in a pinch with the popular crowd?  If you’re Joanna Critchely, you up your caché by spreading a rumor about a child killer who has come to live in your idyllic seaside town, the fictional Flinstead. Lesley Kara’s debut novel The Rumor examines the damage that occurs within a small community when a group of women turn on one another, accusing each other of being the infamous female child killer. 

Sally McGowan, just a young girl herself when she killed her neighbor Robbie, has been protected from the public throughout her adult life. Relocated decades later under a new identity, Joanna quickly becomes obsessed with the dark story behind the rumor and wonders, “What kind of child could stab a five-year-old boy through the heart?”

Joanna is a single mother who has recently moved back to her childhood home of Flinstead. Her young boy, Alfie, is having trouble making friends at school, prompting Joanna into trying to make friends with the other mothers. But she is  socially awkward, which makes circulating the rumor all the more necessary even though she knows she’s doing wrong. She tells the rumor to the members of her book club and to others in the town as well. At least one woman, a shop owner, is harassed, a brick thrown through her store’s front window after she is briefly thought to be the notorious Sally McGowan. 

Adding to those who want to find out if the rumor is true is Michael, Alphie’s father. He’s a freelance journalist who moves in with Joanna with the intent of writing a book about McGowan. His relationship with Joanna takes on renewed closeness which sparks Joanna’s fears that he wants to move in solely for the selfish purpose of writing his book, not build on their family unit.

The narrative intersperses Joanna’s point of view with clippings of Sally McGowan’s crimes, and, apparently the killer herself, which underlies the suspense and immediacy. Because Joanna is the primary person responsible for spreading the rumor, she is soon stalked through Twitter. Why Joanna simply doesn’t block the person is questionable, as is her failure to report it to law enforcement. In fact, they are strangely never called throughout the entire narrative.

For the most part, The Rumor snaps with tension as Joanna and Michael seek the truth about Sally McGowan’s new identity and whereabouts. Is there truth to the rumor that she really is living among them? Is this woman repentant for her grisly crimes, or does she pose a real danger to the inhabitants of Flinstead?

The storyline speeds along unencumbered until one of the final turns where credibility is severely compromised. This may stop some and prove disappointing to the discerning reader. If you can move beyond this point, however, Lesley Kara’s The Rumor is a brisk and smartly written mystery about women, the intricacies of their social circle, and secrets that, if revealed, may have deadly consequences.