Hazel McHaffie

Kathryn Mackel

The Surrogate

Whenever I hear of a book that falls into the same category as mine (medical-ethical novels) I tend to pounce. Is this book serious competition? Has this author stolen my thunder? Can I learn anything from the way he or she has tackled the subject? What should I avoid? So when I found three all called The Surrogate I just had to buy them, didn’t I? They came out in 2004 (Mackel’s book); 2006 (Wall’s) and 2009 (Carver’s).

I find it curious that the publishers didn’t choose alternative titles, but hey ho, maybe Sphere and Simon & Schuster have confident marketing departments. Or the authors were insistent. Or maybe nobody bothered to check.

Double TroubleMy own novel on the same subject was published in 2005, so writing it pre-dated these. Now I’m doubly glad I gave it a different title: Double Trouble.

Researching and writing Double Trouble revealed how complex the social and emotional issues around surrogacy are. The procedure can be fraught with peril, practical as well as emotional, for both the surrogate mother who carries the child, and the adoptive couple (whether or not one is the biological parent) who raise him or her. So I was intrigued to know how these other authors addressed the various ramifications.

I’ll give you a quick summary.

Kathryn Mackel’s The Surrogate

Mackel's bookBethany Testamarta is an acclaimed pianist with everything she wants – except one thing. A baby.

In desperation her husband, Kyle Dolan, enlists the help of a girl calling herself Laurel Bergin. Her credentials seem perfect. She becomes surrogate mother to the Dolans’ last remaining embryo. But Laurel isn’t who she claims to be and gradually a nightmare scenario unravels that takes the Dolans into an underworld of such darkness and evil that Bethany fears for her sanity as well as her family’s safety.

Some of the potential pitfalls of a surrogate pregnancy are dealt with in this book, but I confess neither the writing style nor the storyline appealed greatly for a variety of reasons. Issues need to be handled with more subtlety in my judgement. Mackel has a strong religious message that dominates to the detriment of the whole. Nor was the plot very convincing, I found, although I did persist to the end.

Judith Henry Wall’s The Surrogate

Wall bookThis one takes the reverse position: trustworthy surrogate, ruthless would-be parents.

Again, surrogate pregnancy is at the centre of the story and the issues of emotional attachment and contracting and blurred boundaries and long-term consequences are all there.

Amanda Hartmann is the head of a famous evangelical family. She wants a family. Jamie Long is a penniless twenty-year-old. She needs money. Surrogate motherhood seems to combine an altruistic act with a financial opportunity. But once pregnant and under contract Jamie unearths dark secrets in Amanda’s family and a ruthlessness that scares her. She flees for her life, and searches for a way of freeing herself and her baby from the stranglehold of the Hartmanns.

Of the three I enjoyed this one most. The writing style is confident and fluid, and the plotting careful and well-paced. Even if hard to believe in places. One hidden relative? – maybe. Two? – surely not. Wall, like  Mackel, is American, and again there’s a strong religious component, but in this case it has a context and doesn’t distort the narrative.

Tania Carver’s The Surrogate

Carver book

Published by Little Brown & Co

Carver’s debut novel uses the title The Surrogate cleverly; it isn’t about intentionally carrying a baby for someone else. I won’t say more lest I spoil the story for you.

Its central theme is of a serial murderer who targets pregnant women, drugging them and ripping out their babies. Shocking, horrifying, macabre – just a few of the words used by reviewers. The unusual psychology behind the killings, and the relationship between DI Phil Brennan and criminal profiler Marina Esposito, keep the pages turning. I did actually guess the twist at the end far too early but that didn’t detract much from the overall experience.

The verdict?

After reading all three books, where am I? Envious but still hopeful.

Envious, because the others all have much better covers than mine. Sigh. But it’s an old battle; long forgiven. My present publisher is good at covers and my last three books have had superb designs.

And I’m still hopeful because whilst Double Trouble does revolve around a surrogacy arrangement, and does involve deceit and a crime, it isn’t anything like these potential competitors. Phew again! So I don’t think I need to throw in the towel and say, I give in, you can do it much better than I can, just yet. There is still a tiny little niche with my name on it.

Better get on with the next book though in case someone right now is about to produce its perfect rival!

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