Book Review: Maman by F. E. Birch

Blog tour, Book reviews, Books By Apr 22, 2024 No Comments

Maman by F E Birch is a tense and bruising encounter when one of the police’s own finds herself on the receiving end of their procedures and processes.

DS Joanna Armstrong, a top child protection detective, becomes the accused when one of her twin babies develops facial bruising – sending her into a spiralling post-natal psychosis.

Her life falls apart in an instant. Her team are torn, the doctors think she’s fabricating her illness, and even one of her own colleagues appears hell bent on destroying her.

Can Joanna clear her name when everything seems stacked against her? Can she break through all the prejudice before time runs out? Or is she really mad like they all say?

When F E Birch’s Maman opens, you join DS Joanna Armstrong, who’s in town meeting a friend for lunch, as she appears to stumble upon a troubling discovery. Not one but two abandoned babies. Clearly well-cared for but apparently no one wanting to claim them. And, at the same time, something is clearly not right with Jo: she seems to be fragmenting through the form of nursery rhymes.

What follows next is what happens when the Child Protection system grinds into play and, for once, Jo finds herself up against it rather than a key part of it. She very quickly had me rooting for her, as she clearly wasn’t well, and I found myself railing against her colleagues – and especially her friend, Diane, who quickly absents herself – particularly during the early stages of her processing. I felt as if she were being treated more as presumed guilty rather than presumed innocent. And there is the whole issue as to how she could have been treated more compassionately, while still being aware that it is the welfare of the children that is paramount.

There is so much to unwrap here and F E Birch does it superbly, feeding in more background while moving the process along, and you have to wonder how it all will turn out. It’s very difficult to stop reading once you’ve started, I found myself fully invested with Jo’s story and wanted there to be a good outcome, the positive one for both the children and for Jo herself.

What was interesting was seeing how her colleagues close ranks on her, even though they give her what small kindnesses they can on first taking her in, and how much she is treated from the outset as being in the wrong. I understand, of course, that they need to follow procedure and it has to be beyond reproach when Jo is one of their own. But that perhaps highlights where the failings in the system are and how it needs to be improved or could be streamlined. Luckily, for Jo, she has an incredible husband in Jim, who supports her every step of the way, and a reassuring and indefatigable social worker in Effie Olatunge, who guides them both through the system and is clearly one of the good guys. I cannot imagine how her situation might have looked if she’d had neither of those two forces for good, or if she’d tried to work the system she knew so intimately.

Maman is an altogether different thriller: it feels firmly rooted in the real world of Child Protection and all of its accompanying processes and procedures, while also having fleshed out characters we can respond to and interrogate. F E Birch’s novel is an intense and riveting read which will stay with me and keep me thinking about the need to stay true to oneself, about integrity, loyalty and justice, and finding those people who believe in you: whether your actual family or not. Maman is a remarkable read, richly rewarding in how it is so nuanced, from the details of Jo’s own condition and how it fragments through the form of nursery rhymes right through to the strain of being a diligent and caring police officer who carries her work around with her, all while navigating her own life and her own issues. I can only recommend you read this moving and compassionate account.

Maman by F. E. Birch is published by Wire Books and is available as an ebook, hardback and paperback. You can purchase it from Amazon UK (affiliate link). F.E. Birch is an ex-cop from the North East but she’s not a Geordie. She is a prolific short story writer with a trail of pseudonyms and publications behind her. With a penchant for dark, deep and the disturbing, her crimes are rarely cosy.

My thanks to Heather Fitt for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.


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