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About The Book

“Astonishingly timely and clever, utterly gripping.” —Lucy Foley, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Sarah Vaughan has done it again. Superb.” —Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author

The bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal—now a hit Netflix series—returns with a psychological thriller about a politician whose less-than-perfect personal life is thrust into the spotlight when a body is discovered in her home.

As a politician, Emma has sacrificed a great deal for her career—including her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Flora.

The glare of the spotlight is unnerving for Emma, particularly when it leads to countless insults, threats, and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye. As a woman, she knows her reputation is worth its weight in gold but as a politician, she discovers it only takes one slip-up to destroy it completely.

Fourteen-year-old Flora is learning the same hard lessons at school as she encounters heartless bullying. When another teenager takes her own life, Emma lobbies for a new law to protect women and girls from the effects of online abuse. Now, Emma and Flora find their personal lives uncomfortably intersected…but then the unthinkable happens.

A man is found dead in Emma’s home. A man she had every reason to be afraid of and to want gone. Fighting to protect her reputation and determined to protect her family at all costs, Emma is pushed to the limits as the worst happens and her life is torn apart.

Another breathless and twisty novel from an absolute “master of suspense” (CrimeReads), Reputation brilliantly illustrates that it isn’t who you are that matters…it’s who people think you are.


Chapter One: 11 September 2021: Emma One 11 SEPTEMBER 2021 EMMA
Looking back, it was the interview in the Guardian Weekend that started everything. Or rather, the fact I was on the cover. Exquisitely photographed, I looked more like an Oscar-nominated actress than a Labour politician.

It was hard not to be seduced by it all. The designer trouser suit elongated my legs, as did the suede heels: something I resisted at first because I always wore flats. But heels connoted power, according to the stylist, and it was a trope I chose to accept in that one reckless moment (the first of several reckless moments). In any case, I hoped the heels were balanced out by the message on my crisp white T-shirt: Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. It was something I vehemently believed. Only, when I saw myself on the front cover—with that defiant slash of red lipstick, my armor against a hostile world, and my thick bob blow-dried into a dark halo—I hardly recognized myself. I’d morphed into someone else entirely. Sex and power were the not-so-subtle subtexts of that photo.

Sex, power, and unequivocal ambition.

Even before the publication, I’d felt uneasy.

“Crikey!” I said when Dan, the photographer, showed me a couple of images through the preview screen on the back of his camera. They were tiny—three inches by two—and yet they were arresting. The back of my neck prickled. “I look pretty formidable.”

“You look strong,” Esther Enfield, the paper’s newly appointed political editor, reassured me. “Strong and determined. It fits the interview. Illustrates what you were saying perfectly. You didn’t pussyfoot around with your message, and neither does this.”

“I don’t know. Can I see it again?” I leaned toward Dan, suddenly conscious of his physicality. He towered over me, long-limbed and energetic, like a teenager oozing testosterone, though he must have been in his early thirties. His breath smelled of artisan coffee.

“You look great.” He was brisk, and I sensed his eagerness to get on with it.

“I just look a bit… hard?” I lingered on a shot of me in a butter-soft black leather jacket, the collar framing my unsmiling face. He’d captured a side to me I didn’t like to acknowledge. Was I really as ruthless as he’d made me appear?

Esther shrugged, which made me feel foolish. In her mid-forties, like me, she knew what she was talking about and had sound instincts. Besides, this was the left-leaning Guardian, a paper more in tune with my politics, not the more right-wing Daily Mail.

“This will be good for your career, I promise.” She seemed to read my mind, and then she gave me a proper, warm smile. And so, because this was my first national newspaper feature, because I didn’t want to look weak, because I was flattered, I suppose, that the Guardian thought me sufficiently interesting to put me on their magazine’s front cover, I let myself be swayed by her arguments. I let myself believe what I wanted to believe.

Besides, as Esther said, the photo would be balanced by what was inside: a sharp attack on the government’s austerity measures, apparent in my Portsmouth South constituency, where the need for food banks had proliferated in the last couple of years; a critique of my party leader, Harry Godwin, as “ineffective and prone to self-indulgence”; and details of my private member’s bill calling for anonymity for victims of revenge porn—the reason I’d agreed to this piece. It was a serious interview, worth doing, despite knowing it would irritate more established colleagues, and the photos would be seen through this lens.

“It’s a fantastic shot,” Dan, stubbled and artfully disheveled, said. Later I wondered if this was the reason I caved in so easily: this simple flattery from a younger man who had coaxed me into being photographed like this. “Just a couple more. Head up, that’s it. That’s perfect. Sweet.” Was I subliminally so desperate for male admiration? At forty-four, so conscious of becoming sexually invisible that, despite everything I stood for, I let myself be flattered by and play up to his uncompromisingly male gaze?

“Okay. Let’s go for it,” I told Esther. “As you say: no point pussyfooting around.”

“Absolutely. Honestly, the pics are arresting, and it’s precisely because of this that readers will spend time over this interview, and your colleagues will have to listen to what you say.”

And so I quashed my critical inner voice: the one that used the waspish tones of my late grandmother, with a smattering of my ex-husband David’s caution, and that always gathered in volume until I felt like shaking my head to be rid of it.

Pride goeth before a fall.

Of course, later I would regret this, bitterly, deeply, because that cover shot would be used repeatedly: the stock image that would accompany every Emma Webster story from that moment on. It would be the picture used when I was arrested, when I was charged, when the trial began. And this would rankle because, far from capturing the true me, it was a brittle, knowing version: red lips slightly parted in a way that couldn’t fail to seem distinctly sexual; gaze defiant; a clear, almost brazen challenge in what the article would describe as my “limpid, dark eyes.” A far cry from how I thought of myself, or who I’d ever been: a history teacher at the local high school; Flora’s mum; or a junior politician who tried so very hard to serve her constituents while campaigning on feminist issues more generally.

A picture paints a thousand words. And yet this one reduced me to nothing more than a glamorous mug shot: my challenge to the camera not so different from the insolent expression captured in every custody photo snapped by the police.

Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards get you down. I had an old T-shirt with that message. Perhaps I should have suggested to the stylist that I wear it?

It would have been incendiary, of course. A clear middle finger to the trolls, the media, the critics in my own party—let alone my political opponents—who were poised, even then, to see me stumble.

Had I known what would happen, I might have put it straight on.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for REPUTATION includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Sarah Vaughan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal—now a Netflix series—returns with a new psychological thriller about a politician whose less-than-perfect personal life is thrust into the spotlight when a body is discovered in her home.

As a politician, Emma has sacrificed a great deal for her career—including her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Flora.

A former teacher, the glare of the spotlight is unnerving for Emma, particularly when it leads to countless insults, threats, and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye. As a woman, she knows her reputation is worth its weight in gold, but as a politician she discovers it only takes one slip-up to destroy it completely.

Fourteen-year-old Flora is learning the same hard lessons at school as she encounters heartless bullying. When another teenager takes her own life, Emma lobbies for a new law to protect women and girls from the effects of online abuse. Now, Emma and Flora find their personal lives uncomfortably intersected—but then, the unthinkable happens.

A man is found dead in Emma’s home. A man she had every reason to be afraid of and to want gone. Fighting to protect her reputation, and determined to protect her family at all costs, Emma is pushed to her limits as the worst happens and her life is torn apart.

Another breathless and twisty novel from an absolute “master of suspense” (CrimeReads), Reputation brilliantly illustrates that it isn’t who you are that matters . . . it’s who people think you are.

Topics & Questions for Discussion (12-15 Discussion Questions)

1. Why do you think Sarah Vaughan chose to open with the scene of Mike’s murder? How is it effective in setting the novel’s tone and introducing us to Emma? What do you learn about Emma before you even know her name?

2. There are many pieces of ironic foreshadowing in the early chapters of the novel, including Emma’s t-shirt that reads “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” Find other examples of foreshadowing and consider how they help set the mood of the novel.

3. There is much commentary in the novel on how women are judged by society and the gendered rules they must follow to maintain their good reputations. Emma comments that in her photoshoot, she thought she looked serious, but “I just looked as if I took myself seriously (a cardinal sin for a woman)” (p. 11). In what ways is taking oneself seriously as a woman shown to be a tricky thing to do in our world?

4. Compare and contrast the three main women in the novel, Emma, Flora, and Caroline. How are their motivations similar? How do they differ? Was there a character with whom you empathized more?

5. Before the murder, Emma has a good reputation, both in her public and private lives. Find examples of where and how her good reputation protects her. How do characters describe Emma? Would you describe her in the same way?

6. Emma’s motivation for going into politics was her father, who used to ask her “What are you going to do about it?” when faced with injustice. She explains, “[It] was the rallying cry that had inspired me to study politics and history, the first in my family to go to university” (29). How does knowing this detail about Emma influence your understanding of her subsequent choices? Do you think this rallying cry motivates other characters in the novel?

7. What details does Sarah Vaughan include to create the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere of Emma’s life in the days leading up to Mike’s murder? In what ways are they paralleled in the subsequent trial?

8. Although Flora more obviously deals with mean-girl bullying, adult women in the novel experience or make bullying remarks as well. How does the adult bullying resemble the teenage kind, and how does it differ? Do you think the stakes are any higher or lower?

9. Emma makes the decision to answer the detectives’ questions in her initial interview, despite her lawyer telling her not to comment. Emma explains her need to cooperate is “that old desire to be a good girl, to always answer questions” (158). Where else do you see Emma trying to please in a similar manner? Do Flora and Caroline do the same?

10. In addition to the epigraphs, Sarah Vaughan references other books when Emma looks at her friend Claire’s boyfriend’s books on page 180. His collection includes “Rawls’s Theory of Justice; Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Bagehot’s The English Constitution; set texts by Descartes, Berkeley, and Hume . . . There are a few thrillers” and “The Duchess of Malfi.” Research these texts and see how they relate to Emma’s current situation. How do they emphasize the themes in REPUTATION?

11. How responsible do you think Flora is for what happens at Emma’s home on December 8th? Flora blames herself, thinking, “If it wasn’t for Flora, then Mike would be alive, and her mum wouldn’t be . . . facing up to the fact that in a week’s time she might be in prison” (232). How did you feel about this assessment before the twist, and did you reconsider Flora’s feelings of guilt afterward?

12. After the verdict is reached, Emma answers a few questions from the press. When asked what she feels when she thinks about the night of December 8th, Emma responds that she feels “Shame and regret . . . There’s not one day when I don’t regret what happened” (259). Do you think Emma regrets what she did or regrets getting caught and having her reputation tarnished?

13. Were you shocked by the revelation that the whole family was somehow involved in the acts of December 8th and its cover-up? What elements surprised you the most? Would you have gone to the lengths Emma, Caroline, and David did to protect Flora?

14. Once you learn the second twist at the end—what part of Emma’s past she is so desperate to keep secret—go back and read a few of the key scenes. How do you understand them differently with your knowledge of the last few chapters of the novel? What techniques does Sarah Vaughan employ in order to give double meaning to many of Emma, Flora, and Caroline’s thoughts and statements?

A Conversation with Sarah Vaughan (8-10 Questions)

Q: Sarah, you were a political journalist for many years. How did you draw upon your past job experiences to write REPUTATION?

A: I used the skills I learned as a political journalist: observing MPs, interviewing them, and researching key issues—such as revenge porn—and I drew on what I’d call “the texture of Westminster.” My knowledge of the protocols, the architecture, and of certain scenarios, such as the MP giving a statement outside a certain entrance. (Though there is some dramatic license. I know Emma’s question in Chapter Five is too long, for instance.) Equally, I used my experience having covered court cases to write the court scenes, although I also shadowed a criminal barrister in a two-week murder trial to make sure these [scenes] were accurate. When I was a political correspondent, Twitter didn’t exist, but it didn’t require much research to gain an idea of the extent of the misogynistic abuse experienced by women in public life.

Q: A character in the novel mentions that it’s surprising, considering the amount of online threats and trolling happening, that a politician hasn’t committed a murder or assault before. Was that a point of entry for you when you began writing this novel? Was there a first moment of inspiration that led to writing REPUTATION?

A: The starting point was an interview with a female MP in which she described having nine locks on her front door and a panic alarm by the side of her bed. I wondered what it would be like to live under this level of abuse. At the same time, in the spring of 2019, several other women MPs—including my own—were experiencing extreme abuse online, in person, and via anonymous letters. I’d just written about a mother’s judgement being warped by postnatal anxiety in Little Disasters. Now I wondered how a public figure might act if she was exposed to threats from numerous different sources. If I put her in sufficient jeopardy, how might she react if she was filled with fear.

Q: Why did you choose to write Emma in the first-person point of view and all other characters in third person? What effect were you going for?

A: Writing her from the first person and the other characters from the third was a deliberate decision to privilege her viewpoint. It was an efficient way of getting inside her head and, I hoped, to try to engender sympathy.

Q: What were your favorite scenes to write? Were there any that were especially difficult to write?

A: I found myself most moved when writing the Flora scenes: I was bullied at school and there is a lot of me in Flora, Emma’s 14-year-old daughter. The most “fun” parts were probably those in the POV of the least attractive characters: Simon Baxter, a constituent who’s furious with Emma, and Marcus Jamieson, an academic-turned-extreme rightwing commentator. In fact, the easiest bits to write were Marcus’s shock jock tabloid columns. It felt like such a joy to write a bit of opinionated journalism. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling!

Q: What research did you need to do in order to bring this story to life?

A: I interviewed several MPs about their experience of abuse and the safety measures they’ve been forced to take; I shadowed a criminal barrister in a two-week murder trial and discussed points of law with them. I read Law Commission documents on potentially changing the law on revenge porn and news stories detailing victims’ experiences. I interviewed friends of my teenage daughter, and their parents, about online bullying; I talked to a forensic pathologist, who kindly talked me through injuries that would be sustained if someone fell down the stairs, and I read and corrected the appropriate passages. I checked details with an IT expert who gives evidence in court cases, and an electrician to ensure a plot detail made sense; and I ran my police interviews past the retired detective turned police procedural adviser I work with, who also advised me on blood spatter. The bulk of it was written once the pandemic had started, so I had to rely on Google Maps a little since we weren’t allowed more than five miles from our home, but I chose to write about areas of London I already knew.

Q: Many of your novels depict the moral challenges faced by women balancing high-pressure jobs and high-pressure family issues. What intrigues you about intense situations and the questions that arise from them?

A: Great question. I suppose people react in dramatic and sometimes unexpected ways when they’re put in intense situations, and that hopefully leads to a compelling, exciting read. Although I try to write beautifully, I’m writing books which are marketed as thrillers, even if they are also psychological dramas, and so having a great hook and strong plot is crucial: I’m not an Elizabeth Strout or Anne Tyler (more’s the pity). When I was researching this book, a detective told me no one could swear they would never commit murder. His argument was that if one of my children was being physically threatened, or worse, I might do so. I’m interested in putting women in high-pressure situations and seeing what happens then.

Q: Was there a character whose point of view you especially liked writing from? Who did you find most challenging to write?

A: Having said I loved writing the Marcus columns, I also enjoyed writing from Mike’s viewpoint. I was a journalist for fifteen years, and so there was a certain nostalgia in conjuring up those years. I probably found Caroline the most challenging to write. We don’t necessarily view her sympathetically, and I wanted to play with the wicked stepmother trope but still ensure people were sufficiently invested in and intrigued by her to want to continue to read.

Q: At what stage did you decide that Flora wasn’t the only thing Emma was protecting? How did you go about writing scenes where you could only hint at what was really at stake and what Emma’s true motivations were?

A: As soon as I knew Marcus was going to be a character (and we have our first reference to him in Chapter Nine. It wasn’t something I seeded in later drafts.) At the risk of creating a spoiler, I do think her desire to protect Flora is uppermost: she might have reacted in the way in which she does even without the added motivation we learn of at the very end.

Q: Why did you decide you wanted to explore what one’s reputation means—and what it means to tarnish it, or be protected by it? What intrigued you about the issues surrounding the idea of a good reputation?

A: Reputation is the third of my novels to explore the judgment women are exposed to. In Anatomy of a Scandal, I’m asking the reader—and jury—to judge Olivia in a rape trial (and to judge Sophie’s behaviour in remaining loyal to her husband and Kate’s in prosecuting him). In Little Disasters, it’s mothering that’s scrutinized: Liz makes a professional judgment about whether Jess is a good-enough mother, and the mums at the school gate all chime in. With Reputation I’m looking at how high-profile women are judged as they navigate public life, and how teenage girls are bullied by their peers. I didn’t set out to explore the theme of reputation but I knew early on that the Duchess of Malfi was an influence, and then as soon as I remembered the Othello quote I use as an epigraph it all slotted into place. In all three books, I’m conscious that a woman’s reputation is more precarious than a man’s—by which I mean we still judge women more harshly than their male counterparts and are less forgiving.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I don’t want to give away any details but another thriller/psychological drama about power and judgment, again inspired by news stories.

Enhance Your Book Club (3-5 Enhance Your Book Club Suggestions)

1. Find a recorded or live production of Othello or The Duchess of Malfi and watch it as a group. Discuss why Sarah Vaughan chose to use quotes from both plays for REPUTATION’S epigraph. How do they relate to her novel? Are there other lines you would have chosen to use?

2. Find a recent article about a female politician. See how the woman is described by the journalist and compare it with the ways Emma is described in the novel’s fictional media reports. What have you learned about the depiction of women in the media by reading Sarah Vaughan’s novel? Are there elements you’ll be more wary of when you read or watch the news or scroll through social media now?

3. Check out more of Sarah Vaughan’s books, such as ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL and LITTLE DISASTERS. To find out more about Sarah, visit, or follow her on Twitter @SVaughanauthor.

About The Author

Photograph by Philip Mynott

Sarah Vaughan studied English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. She spent eleven years at The Guardian as a news reporter and political correspondent before leaving to freelance and write fiction. Her first thriller, Anatomy of a Scandal, was an instant international bestseller, translated into twenty-four languages, and is available to stream on Netflix as a worldwide number one series starring Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Rupert Friend. Her bestselling novel, Little Disasters, has also been optioned for television, as has Reputation, her fifth novel. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (July 25, 2023)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668000076

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Raves and Reviews

"Astonishingly timely and clever, it's also utterly gripping. I loved it."

– Lucy Foley, #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE PARIS APARTMENT

"Sarah Vaughan has done it again. Superb."

– Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author of THE END OF HER

"An astonishingly timely, sharply written (of course), unsettlingly believable and impeccably just-one-more-page paced thing of wonder . . . I raced through it in 2 days."

– Ellery Lloyd, author of THE CLUB

"Sarah Vaughan writes exactly the kind of women I want to read about—ambitious politician and mom Emma in REPUTATION is no exception. An incredibly gripping examination of the dangerous double-standards women are held to, and the unjust pressures women face in the public-eye. This novel races along through storylines so tense and sharp and well-crafted, there’s not a minute to put it down. An outstanding read!"

– Ashley Audrain, New York Times bestselling author of THE PUSH

"I simply couldn't put it down. It is current, compelling and very clever."

– B.A. Paris, New York Times bestselling author of THE THERAPIST

"Revenge, politics, and self-preservation collide as one woman desperately fights for her life. Masterful and nail-bitingly suspenseful, this story will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Don’t miss it.”

– Liv Constantine, internationally bestselling author of THE LAST MRS. PARRISH

"Timely, necessary, and gripping, do not miss out on REPUTATION. With her trademark acuity and empathy, Sarah Vaughan skillfully dissects the pressures facing women in both public life and private while delivering an absolute nail-biter of a novel. It’s a must-read for 2022."

– Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of The Long Weekend

"A terrifically entertaining legal drama and an unsettling cautionary tale for any woman considering entering politics – 5 stars."

– Louise Candlish, internationally bestselling author of THE OTHER PASSENGER

"I absolutely adored the book. I love the tone of Sarah's writing, which is so elegant and pared back, and I love the setting, which is completely compelling and like looking behind the curtain. But what I most loved was what she had to say about that insidious fear we all feel as women and the different types of violence that sparks this. It's a clever, timely book, which shows how disastrous consequences can spiral from a network of female fear and oppression."

– Araminta Hall, author of IMPERFECT WOMEN

"Wow! Vaughan’s best book yet, which is saying something. REPUTATION pulls off being both a necessary must-read novel about women in public life - the trolls, the threats, the misogyny - and an absolute masterclass in storytelling with some of the best court scenes I’ve ever read. Vaughan slips under the skin of her characters so deftly, and with such skill and compassion, I lived every page. Riveting. Shocking. Unbelievably good. I loved it."

– Eve Chase, internationally bestselling author of THE BIRDCAGE

"This deep dive into the world of the political woman and the dangers behind the facade is timely and compelling."

– Jane Shemilt, internationally bestselling author of LITTLE FRIENDS

"REPUTATION blew me away. It's a masterpiece – breathtakingly brilliant, powerful, gripping and with an incredibly important message about the treatment of women in the public eye. I binge read it as I couldn't bear to put it down. It's simply phenomenal – a work of sheer genius. I'm sure it will be a runaway hit and deservedly so."

– Sarah Harris, award-winning author of THE COLOR OF BEE LARKHAM'S MURDER

"Once again, Sarah Vaughan has distilled the zeitgeist into a pulse-racing thriller. Gripping all the way."

– Erin Kelly, internationally bestselling author of WATCH HER FALL

"Wonderfully written, tense, taut, and timely . . . I loved it."

– Claire Douglas, author of THEN SHE VANISHES

"Perceptive, elegant, thrilling and addictive. REPUTATION is further proof that Sarah Vaughan handles such important, timely issues with endless flair and compassion. I'm a huge fan."

– Chris Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of WE BEGIN AT THE END

"Sarah Vaughan brilliantly weaves together a taut courtroom drama, expertly plotted thriller, and sharply observed social commentary in this explosive page-turner. REPUTATION is a bold, nuanced exposé of the impossible choices one woman must face to pursue her ambitions, fight for change, and protect her family. I adored this book and can’t wait to see it fly off the shelves!"

– Wendy Walker, international bestselling author of DON'T LOOK FOR ME

"Vaughan offers a cast of strong characters that are sharply realistic and consummately human. A complex, slow-burning examination of double standards, misogyny, and public image that shares strong appeal with Scott Turow’s literary legal thrillers."

– Booklist (starred review)

“British writer Vaughan considers the corrosive impact of social media on the lives of girls and women in this timely, twisty story… as thoughtful as it is surprising.”

– Publishers Weekly

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