11 February 2021

Guest Review: The Dead Line by Holly Watt

The Dead Line by Holly Watt book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *


Imagine coming home and finding a note sewn to the dress you just bought, with the words: 'they take the girls'. That's the basic premise of The Dead Line by Holly Watt and guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise shares his thoughts on the book below.


If you are desperate enough to raise a family then the cost may seem irrelevant. IVF may seem to be the only way. Surrogacy may be the only solution on offer to maintain the genetic line. No matter the cost.

Holly Watt’s latest thriller challenges the innocence behind the ‘at-all-costs’ premise behind ‘having a baby’. Her team of investigative reporters are alerted to slips of fabric among designer clothes imported from Bangladesh. A quick whip-around of the publishing team at The Post in London suggests that the messages may be flagging a baby market centred on Rohinga refugee girls. The stage is set to expose a multinational conspiracy involving British politicians, diplomats and a top London medical specialist in supplying babies for a desperate elite of would-be parents with the money to indulge their desires.

As investigative journalist Casey Benedict sets up her team and opens her investigation, it quickly becomes clear that this must be a story of brutal kidnapping, slavery and murder at its initiation point and highly dubious moral standards obscured amongst conflicted intentions at its delivery point.

In The Dead Line, Holly Watt provides an emotionally compelling story of desperation amongst Rohinga refugees and Bangladeshi women in slavery to an international garment trade that so blithely provides us with the cheapest of clothing. Simultaneously, she offers a revelation into the questionable market for surrogate motherhood, the oh-so-slight bending of immigration rules to accommodate the wishes of the desperate rich couples who would be parents and the almost innocent – or is it ‘well-intentioned’ – group of basically unconnected specialists who collaborate with internationally connected criminals to profit from these crimes.

Watts’ novel is, all at once, highly readable, immediately familiar and morally challenging once it gets past the initial investigative team selection and journalistic context phase. In its closing stages, the pursuit through Bangladeshi slave factories challenges credibility – could this English woman really escape a criminal gang across the mudflats of Bangladeshi shipyards?

The final resolution, equally, left me with a feeling that the author was actually unwilling to apportion blame for the abuse of Rohinga refugees, the slavery and murder of Bangladeshi garment workers and the corruption of both respected diplomats and highly esteemed medical specialists on the self-seeking willingness of a rich couple to subjugate their morality to their need for a baby. With these few reservations, I believe that Holly Watts has produced a really interesting thriller with enough grist to feed the modern mill of those who are willing to explore the ambiguity of modern medical practice at its extremes.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

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