Skip to main content

Little Darlings


Little Darlings

LITTLE DARLINGS is more than an impressive debut novel. It is an impressive novel, period. Melanie Golding’s first published book-length work sure-footedly straddles genres --- mystery, thriller, supernatural --- while grabbing the reader from its first few pages and not letting go. The day that I started it, I had binge-watched a bunch of Rob Zombie horror films and thought that I was totally scared-out. I was wrong. LITTLE DARLINGS has more than enough fright, terror and suspense to satisfy even the most jaded reader of genre fiction.

Golding gives us a taste of the conclusion at the start of the book before going back to the beginning. That opening scene consists of Lauren Tranter giving birth to twin sons. The author gets it all just right, from the complications that accompany the birth to the presence of Patrick, the somewhat hapless but well-meaning husband and father, who tries not to be superfluous to the event even as he doesn’t seem totally engaged. Lauren is another story. She is, in fact, a good deal of the story, an enigmatic figure who is either totally aware of what is going on, entirely delusional, or caught in stasis at some terrible mid-point in between the two states. She is still a patient with her children in the maternity ward when she hears a woman in the bed next to her, who also apparently has twins, singing a bizarre song.

"Anyone with children, or anyone who knows anyone who has children, will find LITTLE DARLINGS to be an excruciatingly frightening but nonetheless irresistible tale."

Lauren eventually confronts this lady, who she initially thinks is a street person who has somehow gotten onto the ward. The woman wants to make an exchange with Lauren. This, of course, scares the hell out of her, and, in Golding’s quite capable hands, doesn’t do wonders for the reader’s mental health, either. The problem is that the midwife and nurses all insist that Lauren is the only mother on the ward with twins.

Lauren, who called the police during the episode, doesn’t believe that she experienced a hallucination, which is what the psychiatric staff at the hospital keep insisting. Detective Sergeant Jo Harper, who takes the report, isn’t sure what is going on but doesn’t entirely disbelieve Lauren, particularly when she reviews hospital security camera footage outside the ward as well as the recording of her 911 call. Harper sees and hears things that can’t be explained away entirely as imagination. Problems continue when Lauren and Patrick eventually take the twins home. There are the usual ones --- sleep deprivation, division of duty issues and the like --- but much more troubling is the occasional odd and inappropriate baby gifts that keep showing up on the porch. The worst, however, is that Lauren continues to see the strange woman from the hospital.

An incident then occurs that endangers the twins and sends Lauren to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. A terrible question arises as to whether Lauren is attempting to injure her babies --- babies she is insisting are not hers and have been switched --- or trying to save them. The distinction becomes extremely crucial before the end of the book and, in a neat and frightfully exquisite turn, after its conclusion.

LITTLE DARLINGS is a haunting work on multiple levels. It gave me a humdinger of a nightmare, which made me love the book all the more and echoed well into my waking hours afterward. Anyone who has wondered where the ancient stories and legends come from will read it with some appreciation. Speaking of which, Golding intermittently includes topic-appropriate epigraphs at the beginnings of some of the chapters and generously provides citations to them at the conclusion. It’s a chilling touch to a tale that is as frightening as its source material. Changelings, infant abduction and the like are recurrent themes in literature across history and cultures. Golding reminds her readers of this, though it is doubtful this reminder is ultimately necessary.

Anyone with children, or anyone who knows anyone who has children, will find LITTLE DARLINGS to be an excruciatingly frightening but nonetheless irresistible tale.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 3, 2019

Little Darlings
by Melanie Golding