At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of handbags and haircuts and discreet silver watches. You’d never guess, at the glamorous kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that Faiza’s childhood was spent following her parents round the Tooting Cash’n’Carry.
When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Raising the perfect family comes at a cost – and the money Tom put aside has gone. When Tom’s redundancy package ends, Faiza will have to tell him she’s spent it all.
Unless she doesn’t…
It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has six weeks to find £75,000 before her lie spirals out of control. If anyone can do it, Faiza can: she’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down, and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to protect her family?
*This ARC was sent to me by Head of Zeus, please read our disclaimer policy for more information.
Aliya Ali-Afzal wrote a promising debut thriller focused on finance, micro-aggression, interracial relationships, sexual harassment and so much more. As thrillers go, I was intrigued by the synopsis and was definitely impressed at the way Aliya wrote this book. Through Faiza, we witness a mother of three children, a wife to Tom, and a woman who is desperate to maintain a lavish lifestyle for fear of judgment.
This isn’t a book I would typically pick up but I do enjoy trying new things. The plot of this book was very much where one thing leads to another and it continues to escalate. The inevitable explosion of things blowing up in Faiza’s face was almost like sexual tension throughout the book. We knew it was going to happen and every event that Faiza did to prevent her secrets from coming out, only added to the tension.
A thriller about money being the root cause of problems was what made this book very believable. Money has such a huge hold on our lives and is very much the foundation of society. We literally go to school to learn tools, to get a job that will make us money, that will allow us to live the lifestyle we want. Nevertheless, I thought it was interesting that Aliya explored the source of Faiza’s erratic spending in relation to both race and class. Faiza’s desperate nature to be accepted by the other mother’s at her children’s school meant she brushed aside the micro-aggressions she experiences and spends money in order to make sure she be accepted.
A very sad and troubling thought. But something that is so common.
“When Sofia was younger, the mothers in the park, or at nursery, had often mistaken me for the nanny…since then I had learnt to wear clothes and carry bags that would immediately make them see me as one of them…”
However, what becomes clear is that money will not make these mothers like Faiza. This was the only time I actually had sympathy for Faiza. Navigating predominantly white spaces can be extremely hard and draining, especially when you are constantly facing micro-aggressions and subtle racism. I understood that she was acting on motherly instincts and she believed that by befriending the mothers, her children would also be accepted by their peers. Nevertheless, I could tell that Faiza’s belief that this would be the answer for acceptance stemmed from deeper issues, and wasn’t surprised when Aliya revealed them later.
But, despite Faiza’s clear trauma and troubles, I honestly struggled to have sympathy for her.
I think it’s because Faiza comes across as extremely naive. Her financial understanding of money resembled the behaviour of a teenager rather than a grown woman. Even the impulsive decisions she would make, after it becomes clear that she needs to get the £75,000 back, are extremely problematic. Her chaotic nature made me want to scream.
Essentially, I was ready for her secrets to come out by the end of the first five chapters.
My sympathy for her dwindled dramatically after she got a job. At first, I was extremely happy that she was finally trying to do things properly. However, it was almost as if her chaotic and problematic nature just followed her into the role. Every action she made just caused even more problems for her.
“For Tom, money was utility and security. For me, it was a solution for all sorts of problems…”
I liked that the main character was Pakistani and we got to see cultural references. It’s a dive into Muslim families and I really loved that aspect. They were definitely my favourite parts of the story. Through the children, especially the daughter, they convey the internal conflict of being mixed cultures/races. Whilst, Faiza’s trauma stemmed from racism, I felt like Aliya had a natural balance of themes. Money was at the forefront, of course, but race and sexual harassment played a massive part too.
“We would mess up, we would fight, we would change, but we would always love each other…”
Trust in marriages is clearly integral too. It’s the foundation of Faiza and Tom’s relationship and I think that’s what raises the tension in the book. Faiza is desperate to prevent Tom from finding out but her secrets but it leads to the eventual downfall of their relationship.
In terms of the plot pace, I did get a little bored in places and I felt as if certain parts were dragged out. There were certain parts of the story that I questioned whether they were necessary. They felt pointless and a bit of a divergence away from the issue of Faiza trying to get back the money
Nevertheless, I think this felt more like a contemporary read with a thriller twist. It’s definitely a solid read.