A Simple Favour is a wannabe Gone Girl sensation that falls flat with weak characters.
Cover image of A Simple Favour by Darcey Bell. Image via Macmillan.
A Simple Favour starts with the naïve and painful voice of Stephanie writing her ‘Hi Moms!’ blog and it takes some perseverance to continue with this book. Written by young American author Darcey Bell in the trope of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train there are frequent references to suspenseful movies – Peeping Tom is one. Well known writer Patricia Highsmith (of The Talented Mr Ripley fame) is also used as the touchstone for the main character’s manipulation. Unfortunately in her debut, school teacher Darcey Bell does not reach the same writerly heights as Highsmith, renowned for her taut, tight writing and compelling characterisations of the evil personality who is then normalised. However there are sufficient contemporary references to unshackling picture perfect lives with deliberately scandalous secrets to ensnare the Gone Girl audiences.
A Simple Favour posits the apparently simple ‘Captain Mom’ Stephanie as foil to her best friend, the more glamourous Emily who has a full time job in the Manhattan fashion world and whose son is best friends with the widowed Stephanie’s five year old. They swap babysitting favours and the ‘simple favour’ is for Stephanie to pick up Emily’s son Nicky and take him to her home, but Emily does not return to pick him up… day after day after day. The terrified Stephanie reaches out to the moms on the blogsite to help her as she knows Emily would come back for Nicky if she could, whatever the police say.
The fallacy of the picture perfect life of her friend Emily – great husband, great sex, lovely son, and exciting job – begins to disintegrate before Stephanie’s eyes as secrets fall out. Even though there are several unreliable narrators, it feels like the reader can anticipate many of the plot points, with Stephanie falling for Emily’s handsome reserved husband Sean. Emily is pronounced dead, but uncertainty remains. Stephanie has her share of scandalous secrets, and even though some indicate that her blog tone is meant to satirise the righteous army of Captain Mom’s who are aiming for perfection in their parenting, the writing is not convincing on this point – as it remains as sentimental and moralistic as the Stephanie character, despite her one major bad deviation.
The end is disappointing as it tries to tie everything up. Like any suspenseful thriller, the quality of the writing is not the main focus; we are more interested in plot and believable characters, and there is not much of that. A Simple Favour concludes with ambiguity and there are holes in the conclusion and we as the readers, never hear about.
Even though there are some potentially intriguing plot points, ultimately the characterisations and writing are weak. It also has too many ‘name drops’ of authors, particularly Patricia Highsmith (who you should definitely read for truly suspenseful intriguing plays on the morals of good and evil), and contemporary movies that indicate that this is the wannabe area the author wants to play in, but doesn’t achieve.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5
A Simple Favour
Written by Darcey Bell
Published by Macmillan a division of Harper Collins Publishing 9 March 2017
Publication date: 09.03.2017
Number of pages: 304
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level