Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

It is often the case that authors selected to be published by Orenda Books tend to explore the road less travelled, choosing topics that are rarely written about and challenging the reader’s perceptions. It is what makes Orenda Books novels so special. One of their latest signings is Helen Fitzgerald, and like other Orenda authors, I had full expectations that I would be taken on a literary journey that I had not been on before. Here’s the blurb:

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with
some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Imprisoned for murdering his wife, Liam Macdowall has published
a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that has made
him an unlikely hero – a poster boy for Men’s Rights Activists.
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far
from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam
and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a
relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand
of justice … with devastating consequences.

Fitzgerald’s uses her main character, Mary, as a vehicle to explore a number of thought-provoking and often taboo topics, such as male domestic violence, paedophilia, and the dreadful state of our social care system. Fitzgerald doesn’t hold back in her approach. This is a gritty novel that doesn’t show the main protagonist as a hero, or even in a favourable light most of the time. Mary Shields is your proverbial “car crash”, though a lot of it isn’t really her fault. However, Worst Case Scenario gives a good overview of the life of someone who works in social services, the impossible challenges that they are expected to overcome, and the unfairness of a system that is designed to help people in need.

What I loved about the narrative in this novel is its no-holds-barred bluntness. No sugar-coating, just an honest depiction of a damaged character who, at heart, wants to do right by everyone who deserves it. True, Mary makes a lot of horrendously bad decisions that cost her, but often, this is down to the restraints placed on her by the job that she does. Also, we can’t underestimate the effects of the menopause on a woman’s state of mind!

Helen Fitzgerald has written a brilliant novel that, in true Orenda tradition, is uniquely formed and not afraid to talk about subjects many authors would stay well away from. Like Mary, I felt completely exhausted and in need of a glass of wine by the time I finished it, but to me, that’s a great response to have to a novel. It’s such a cleverly written novel with perfect balance of humour, poignancy and intrigue. I look forward to reading other novels by this author in the future.

Worst Case Scenario Cover