The Rumor

The Rumor

by Lesley Kara


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“Keeps you guessing until the final page.”—Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
“A rollercoaster ride to the very last sentence.”—Fiona Barton, author of The Widow 
“Everyone will be talking about The Rumor.”—Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door

When a single mother hears a shocking rumor outside her son’s school, she never intends to pass it on. But one casual comment leads to another . . . and now there’s no going back.

Rumor has it that a notorious killer, who committed a brutal crime as a child, has been living a new life under an assumed identity in Joanna’s seaside town. So who is the criminal hidden in their midst? Suspicion falls on everyone.

As Joanna becomes obsessed with the case, her curiosity will expose her son and his father to the supposedly reformed murderer—who may be ready to kill again. She will learn how dangerous one rumor can become . . . and just how far she must go to protect those she loves. She is going to regret the day she ever said a word.

Advance praise for The Rumor
“A brilliant premise with a killer twist. The Rumor depicts the prejudices and secrets that simmer in a small seaside town to devastating effect.”—Colette McBeth, author of An Act of Silence

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984819345
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/18/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 224,386
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University in London, and has worked as a lecturer and manager in further education. She has now relocated to the small town of Frinton-on-Sea on the North Essex coast. The Rumor is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


It starts with a rumor. Whispers at the school gate.

I’m not really listening at first. I promised Dave I’d pick up the keys to the Maple Drive property and meet a client there. I don’t have time to stand around in a gossipy huddle with this group.

But then I catch sight of Debbie Barton’s face—the way her jaw’s just dropped—and my curiosity gets the better of me.

“Say that again,” she says. “I don’t believe it.”

I edge closer, as does little Ketifa’s mother, Fatima. Jake’s mother—is it Cathy?—looks from side to side before she speaks, milking her moment in the spotlight for all it’s worth.

“There’s a strong possibility that a famous child killer is living right here in Flinstead,” she says, pausing to let her words take effect. “Under a new identity, of course. She murdered a little boy when she was ten, back in the sixties. Stabbed him with a kitchen knife, right through his heart.”

There is a collective gasp. Fatima brings her hand to her chest.

“Sally McGowan,” Cathy says. “Google it when you get home.”

Sally McGowan. The name rings a bell. Probably from one of those Netflix documentaries I sometimes watch when I’ve nothing better to do. Kids Who Kill or Serial Killers I Have Known.

“Who told you this?” I ask.

Cathy takes a deep breath. “Let’s just say it’s someone who knows someone whose ex—husband used to be a cop. Well, this cop’s buddy heard him talk about her one time. She was released when she was a young woman, has been moving around since then by all accounts, trying to keep a low profile. Now she’s ended up here. It might not be true, but you know what they say, there’s no smoke without fire. And what better place to hide out than somewhere like Flinstead?”

Debbie sucks her teeth. “I think it’s disgusting that people like her get to start all over again. Where’s the justice in that?”

“You’d rather they were kept in prison their whole life?” I ask. “For a crime they committed when they were children?”

Debbie stares at me. “Adult crime, adult time, isn’t that what they say? And if they are released, don’t we have the right to know where they are?”

“What, so they can be mobbed by vigilantes?”

Now all three women are staring at me. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut, but sometimes I can’t help myself. I don’t even know why I’m listening to all this crap. I should know better.

Cathy sniffs. “It’s not fair that someone like that gets a second chance. What about the parents of the little boy who was murdered? They don’t get the luxury of starting a new life, do they?”

“Well, it probably isn’t true anyway,” Fatima says. “And if it is, there’s nothing we can do about it. It was years ago. I doubt she’s still dangerous.”

Lovely, sensible Fatima. I must suggest she drop by for coffee and a chat soon. Get to know her a little better. But not today. I’ll be late if I don’t get a move on.

“Thanks, Jo. I really appreciate you doing this on your day off.”

Dave hands me the keys and the freshly printed property listing for 24 Maple Drive, the new Pegton’s logo emblazoned at the top.

“It’s no problem,” I say. And it isn’t. There aren’t many employers as flexible as Dave Pegton. It’s been a godsend finding a job that fits in around Alfie’s school times, and so close to home as well.

Home. I’ve got Dave to thank for that, too. The tiny two—bedroom cottage he generously described as “in need of some TLC.” You’ve got to love the jargon. What it actually needs is intensive care, but seeing as it was the only place I could afford, I ended up putting in an offer on it. New house. New job. And all because I walked into the right realtor’s office at the right time. Serendipity, isn’t that what it’s called?

Dave walks back to his desk. “Good luck with Mrs. Marchant, by the way,” he says over his shoulder.

“Why? What’s up with her?”

Dave smirks. “You’ll find out soon enough,” and before I can quiz him further, the phone rings and he’s talking to a client.

Maple Drive is a mixture of 1920s and 1930s houses. Some of them are single—family, but most are two—family townhouses. It’s not the most expensive street in Flinstead—the area known as the Groves is where the seriously moneyed live—but it’s popular, especially the water end of it, which is where number 24 is situated. Dave has described it on the listing as having an “ocean view,” and it probably does if you open one of the bedroom windows, lean out, and crane your neck to the left. An ocean glimpse might be a better description, but it’s a nice—looking house. Well maintained. Established front garden. And even a glimpse of the water adds dollars to the value.

Susan Marchant opens the door before I’ve even rung the bell. A curt nod is all I get in response to my cheery good morning. I’m expecting her to step back and usher me in, but she just stands there as if I’m one of the “cold callers” listed on the sign above the bell. The ones who aren’t welcome.

“I was hoping to have a quick scoot around on my own first,” I say. “Just so I’m familiar with the layout.”

I always find it helps if you’re prepared for what you’re about to show someone. Not everyone tidies and cleans their house prior to showings. I’ve come across all kinds of strange and unsavory things before. Dirty underwear tossed all over the floor. A large brown turd coiled in a toilet bowl like a sleeping snake. Although from what I can see beyond Susan Marchant’s shoulder, that won’t be the case here. It’s clean to the point of being clinical, the rooms half empty. Looks like she’s moved most of her stuff into storage already.

“Why?” she says, her brows knitted together. “Don’t you have the floor plan on your listing?” There’s a coldness in her eyes and voice that throws me.

“Well, yes, but . . .”

“Too late anyway,” she says, squinting out at the street. “That must be Anne Wilson.”

I turn to see a blue BMW pull up. A woman in a pale—green raincoat and with two—tone hair—dark blond with coppery ends—climbs out of the passenger seat, raises her hand at me, and smiles. Thank God for smiley people. Now the driver has joined her. He’s tall and distinguished—looking. Silver—gray hair. I get the feeling he’d like to have opened the door for her if only she’d given him the chance. They’re walking up the driveway toward us holding hands, so either they’re one of those rare couples still very much in love after years of marriage, or this is a new relationship. I’d put money on the latter.

It’s one of the things I love about this job—meeting new people all the time. Trying to guess from the snippets they reveal about themselves what they’re really like. And viewing clients’ properties is absolutely the best part of what I do. Tash, who’s one of my oldest friends, says it’s because I’m a nosy parker. But that’s okay, because she’s exactly the same.

Once, when she and her boyfriend were on vacation, they pretended to be interested in buying an expensive penthouse apartment, just so they could have a look inside. I suppress a smile. They had to park their dilapidated old Volvo a couple of streets away so the realtor didn’t see them get out of it. I often think of that story when I’m meeting prospective buyers. You never really know if people are genuine.

Reading Group Guide

1. Lesley Kara depicts the paranoia, fear, and frenzy that seizes a community when a dark secret comes to light and how one piece of gossip can be unimaginably destructive. Jo spreads the rumor about Sally McGowan to ingratiate herself with the local moms; Michael buys into it to further his career. Is there any benefit to gossiping?

2. Do secrets take on more power the more they’re shared? What about when they’re bottled up? Are we responsible for all the information—true or false—that we play a part in spreading?

3. Flinstead is home to people of different classes, and so Jo feels a pressure to play into the local mommy antics to help make opportunities for Alfie. Discuss the ways in which we perform and offer things up for the benefit of our children.

4. Jo struggles with having an unconventional family in a homogeneous town. Discuss a time when you felt like an outsider.

5. On page 208, Liz says, “There’s darkness in everyone’s soul . . . We’re all of us capable of evil thoughts and evil acts under certain circumstances.” Do you agree with her?

6. The Rumor is based on the British child killer Mary Bell, who strangled two toddlers and has lived under a series of pseudonyms since her release from prison. In one of the interludes written from Sally’s perspective, she mentions that living in secret under witness protection is a kind of hell. Do you think that living in constant vigilance with a secret that slowly devours you is a fitting punishment for Sally? Do you think she deserved to be punished more explicitly?

7. Marie goes after Alfie because she feels like Sally was never properly punished for killing Robbie. Do you agree with Marie’s eye for an eye mentality? What are the limits to the culpability of children?

8. Do you think Sally did the right thing not telling Jo who she really was? Did the italicized sections written in her voice help you to try and understand her?

9. If you were Jo, would you want to know the truth? Why or why not?

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