The Imagined ChildOdette leaves Johannesburg to make a new start in Nagelaten, a small Free State town. A writer for a popular TV soap, she appears to be searching for a less complicated life. But others think she’s escaping – to a place where she knows no one and won’t have to share her secrets.

Life in Nagelaten isn’t as simple as it seems. The town also holds secrets. Why do people insist there’s no crime, all evidence to the contrary? Who is the strange outcast, whom she feels sorry for, yet doesn’t quite trust? And why will no one tell her his story?

Odette is caught up in two deaths – a baby in the United Kingdom whom her troubled daughter, Mandy, is suspected of killing, and a brutal farm murder. Both cause her ordered life to unravel, while a new friendship forces her to question the silences of Nagelaten.

Events edge her towards the most courageous act of her life: facing the truth in order to save herself and her daughter.

In this taut psychological mystery, Jo-Anne Richards’s trademark lyrical style is combined with tight suspense that will keep you guessing until the last page

Review quotes

Jo-Anne’s trenchant observation of human behaviour, always laced with humour, makes for an engrossing read.  – Athol Fugard

When you start reading The Imagined Child, don’t be surprised to look up and discover it’s gone 3 a.m. Jo-Anne Richards takes the urbanite-moves-to-the-platteland-to-find-herself motif and twists it brilliantly, lacing the narrative with such palpable tension that while immersed in it, I often had to remind myself to breathe. This superbly written, searing study of secrets, motherhood and guilt – both personal and historical – will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.  – Sarah Lotz

The Imagined Child is a searing and intimate look at how guilt and fear make us do terrible things, and Jo-Anne Richards delivers a powerful and perceptive deconstruction of parenthood and culpability. Her trademark twist in the tale is a sudden punch to the gut, and leaves the reader breathless for days afterwards. The Imagined Child is an impeccably researched – and sometimes very funny – portrait of upheaval and recreation in the New South Africa. – Diane Awerbuck

A captivating and quietly confident tale of life in the new South Africa. Jo-Anne Richards has a deft touch with words and uses it to weave a personal story set in a nation still trying to settle after the dust. – Shubnum Khan

Writing with her trademark care and precision, Joanne takes us into smalltown South Africa and has us look deep into some complicated souls. She tells a tightly-woven tale of the difficulties of being both a parent and a child, of the fraught complexities of friendship and community, and the uncertain nature of our loyalties.  She jumbles together the best and the worst of humanity, so that in the end one is not certain which is which.  It is all firmly located in a South Africa that is both unnervingly familiar and yet full of surprises. This is her fifth novel, and maybe her best yet. – Anton Harber