I liked this apt description or summary of The Lollipop Girl by Syd Hart that comes from the Amazon page for this work:
“Inside every person lurks a shade of evil. What brings it to the surface? What makes it grow?”
The above comment is better appreciated after reading the entire novel. The lollipop girl was so named for two reasons. First, there was Samuel, a baby who did not live the past five months. The cause of death might have been the lollipop lodged in the infant’s throat. Officialdom, police and associated agencies, will not be able to determine whether this is true or not because the candy was removed from the child’s throat before Caterina, the child’s mother, or Clifton Perkins, the child’s father, called police. The second reason is for an entity called the Lollipop Girl was the appearance at Eva’s school by a lady who called herself the Lollipop Girl as she proceeded to dispense free lollipops to schoolchildren.
For a US reader, the antipathy and even hostility shown by Caterina and Clifton toward Social Services. Throughout this novel, there is a consistent theme that Clifton and Caterina must avoid the involvement of Social Services, not precisely a law enforcement arm of the government. When Samuel was found dead, Caterina removed the lollipop from Samuel’s throat out of fear that Social Services would believe Samuel’s sister, Eva, might have put the candy in Samuel’s throat. Whether by accident or design, Social Services might decide to remove Eva from the household and place her in an orphanage during an investigation. Even without the lollipop, it seems Social Services had the power of commitment over either the parents if one did not handle the grieving process well.
This power of the government, one that presumes guilt until proven innocent is dissimilar to a system in the US, at least until recently. If abuse of children is suspected, Social Services action is frequently triggered, by law, following reports by a teacher, doctor, or investigating law enforcement officer. Incarceration is not as immediate as depicted in this story. Caterina was a psychologist; she was aware of the power of Social Services. The issue of government vs. private citizen conflict, along with proper British English vocabulary, slows the story down for a US audience.
Clifton is a pharmacist and seems to be on-call more than a US pharmacist counterpart. Caterina, a psychologist, works varying shifts. The effects of this are that the two parents are rarely available to both interact with their children. Clifton takes over a lot of the duties of preparing Eva for school as well as pick-up and drop-off assignments. Another effect is that the couple has few social friends. The only relationship of any consequence to this tale is their relationship with Pastor Anthony, his wife Ashley, and daughter Dalia.
Although Dalia is significantly older than Eva, the two had gotten along fine together as friends for several years. Ashley was decades younger than the Pastor. She had a beauty that attracted Clifton’s eye, a fact that was not lost on Caterina. The Pastor had switched religious affiliation several times as he attempted to bend church doctrine to his will, such as in the area of celibacy. At the same time of Samuel’s death, the Pastor was initiating activities to gain a political role in the administration of a school. Should he obtain the new position, administrative duties, and preparation for his religious functions would keep him away from home for extended periods. Clifford paid attention to this development. Too much attention. Clifford’s attentiveness to Ashley would lead to Caterina leaving home.
Having lost two family members, Clifford continued with programs as part of a grief management process. Good friend Ashley, Dalia, Eva, and Clifton even organized activities together, activities not attended by the Pastor. During one camping activity, Eva disappears.
As the last surviving member of his family, Clifton turns to therapy and drugs to deal with the loss of three family members. As a pharmacist, Clifton feels he can manage the medications well.
All the above has been story setup. Now, the story gets interesting. Anonymous phone calls indicate to Clifton that his family members were murdered according to a plan and for an undisclosed purpose. There will be many notes, phone calls, and offers of meetings to explain to Clifton the truth of matters.
I liked the structural part of the storytelling. For almost three-quarters of the novel, chapters alternate between 2001, a year of incidents, and 2016, the present time. Toward the end of the story, chapter titles began to fill the gap between the two years as the actions of various characters which contribute to a plot twist.
There will be a story resolution. There will be a surprise. And there will be a lot of unanswered questions. A stand-alone novel, the unanswered questions give Syd Hart many paths to follow forward if the author plans more stories. I gave the book four and one-half Amazon stars because of the unusual British English (my perception) and some, but not all, of the unanswered questions.
The novel is available on Amazon for USD 0.99 or as a free read on Kindle Unlimited. I look forward to reading more by Syd Hart.