A simple premise: after her own baby dies, Rose Wilks becomes friendly with Emma, a fellow new mum whose own baby, Luke, was born at the same time. When a cigarette starts a fire which kills Luke, Rose is convicted of manslaughter. The story picks up several years later, when Rose is due for a parole hearing, and has to convince probation officer Cate that she should be released.
That bald summary doesn't begin to do justice to the story, of course. Most of it is written in the first person by Rose herself, in the form of a sort of lengthy letter/journal addressed to her boyfriend Jason, and this part of the book is utterly compelling. Rose's history, how she came to the point of being accused of killing Luke, and her personality are fascinating. The big question is whether she is telling the truth when she claims to be innocent. It's clear that she's a disturbed and manipulative person, intelligent and not uneducated, but with some seriously odd ways. She does very well in prison, for instance, keeping on the right side of the prison officers and yet easily dominating or intimidating other inmates.
The other part of the book, about Cate the probation officer, is much less interesting. It's a necessary counterpoint to Rose, I suppose, to show someone apparently successful and powerful, who is actually very fragile - something of a mess, basically. It was also useful for plot purposes, since she has to ask questions of all the main characters. I didn't find Cate very believable or well-rounded, and it was always a disappointment to turn the page to find it was a Cate chapter. This may have been partly because Cate's sections were written in the third person, with the inevitable distancing effect (at least compared to the intimacy of Rose's sections).
The ending, and the reveal of exactly what happened when Luke died, is not actually a surprise (or at least, I guessed it ages before), but nevertheless there are enough twists along the way to keep things bubbling along. I found this an absorbing read, and a real page-turner. It's only the dull Cate chapters that keep it to four stars.